Although the 20th century witnessed the increasing recognition of principles such as universal human rights, democratic ideals, the equality of human beings, social justice, the peaceful resolution of conflict, and condemnation of the barbarism of war, it was nevertheless one of the bloodiest centuries in all human history. Such a development was unpredicted by classical sociological theorists writing in the second half of the 19th century, who either did not devote much attention to the question of war and peace or were optimistic about the prospects for peace in the 20th century. While war and peace were central questions in the social theories of both Auguste Comte (1798–1857),1Auguste Comte, Introduction to Positive Philosophy (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1970). the founder of positivism, and Herbert Spencer (1820–1903),2Herbert Spencer, Evolution of Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967). the founder of evolutionary and synthetic philosophy, for example, both conceived of social change as an evolutionary movement towards progress and characterized the emerging modern society as essentially peaceful—one in which military conquest aimed at the acquisition of land would be replaced with economic and industrial competition.3This is part of Comte’s law of three stages. According to this idea, all societies evolve by going through religious/theological, metaphysical/philosophical, and scientific/positive stages. Spencer defined a military society as one in which the social function of regulation is dominant, while in an industrial society the economic function predominates. Other classical theorists generally assumed that war among nations was a thing of the past.4Contrary to the popular perception, Durkheim, Marx, and Weber rarely engaged in a direct discussion of war or peace. Only after the onset of the World War I did Durkheim, Simmel, and Mead side with their own countries and discuss the issue. Such optimism was partly rooted in the relative security of Europe during the 19th century where, between the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and the onset of World War I in 1914 there was a relatively long stage of peace, interrupted mainly by the German-French war of 1870. However, this security was a mere illusion, accompanied as it was by increasing militarism and nationalism in Europe and the vast scale of war and genocide perpetrated by European powers in their pursuit of colonial conquest in Africa and other parts of the world.

Standing in contrast to the misplaced optimism of the classical 19th century sociologists is the spiritual figure of Bahá’u’lláh, who was born in 1817 in Persia and initiated a transformative global religion centered on the urgency and necessity of peace making. He perceived that both the institutional structures of the 19th century and their cultural orientation promoted various forms of violence, including international wars. The significance of Bahá’u’lláh and His insights as they apply to peace movements and peace studies is evident through an examination of His worldview and of the manner in which His writings reconstruct foundational concepts such as mysticism, religion, and social order—emphasizing the replacement of the sword with the word.


A facsimile of an original writing of Bahá’u’lláh, along with His pen and pen case

Bahá’u’lláh and the Removal of the Sword

Mírzá Ḥusayn ‘Alíy-i-Núrí, who took the title Bahá’u’lláh (the Glory of God), was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1817. As a young man, Bahá’u’lláh accepted the claim of the young merchant from Shiraz known as the Báb (the Gate) to be the Promised One of Shí‘ih Islam. Both the clerics and state authorities in Iran declared the Báb’s ideas heretical and dangerous and unleashed a systematic campaign of genocide directed at His followers, the Bábís. The Báb Himself was executed in 1850—only six years after the announcement of His mission. While the writings of the Báb provided fresh and innovative interpretations of religious ideas, they pointed to the imminent appearance of a new Manifestation (prophet or messenger) of God and defined His entire revelation as a preparation for the coming of that great spiritual educator. During a massacre of the Bábís in 1852, Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned in a dungeon in Tehran, where He received an epoch-making experience of revelation and perceived Himself to be the Promised One of all religions, including the Bábí Faith. After four months of imprisonment, and the confiscation of all His property, He was exiled to the Ottoman Empire, first to Baghdad, then in 1863 to Constantinople (Istanbul), and from there to Adrianople (Edirne), and finally, in 1868, to the fortress city of ‘Akká in the Holy Land, where He died in 1892.

Although Bahá’u’lláh founded a new religion, the meaning, and particularly the end purpose, of religion is transformed in His writings. As traditionally conceived, religion is often focused on a set of theological doctrines about God, prophets, the next world, and the Day of judgment. While these concepts are discussed and elucidated in His writings, Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes that He has come to renew and revitalize humanity, to reconstruct the world, and to bring peace. In His final work, the Book of the Covenant, He describes the purpose of His life, sufferings, revelation and writings in this way:

The aim of this Wronged One in sustaining woes and tribulations, in revealing the Holy Verses and in demonstrating proofs hath been naught but to quench the flame of hate and enmity, that the horizon of the hearts of men may be illumined with the light of concord and attain real peace and tranquillity.5Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-‘Ahd (Book of the Covenant), in Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978), 219.

In other words, affirming spiritual principles is inseparable from transforming the social order and from replacing hatred and violence with love and universal peace. From a Bahá’í point of view, then, religion must be the cause of unity and concord among human beings, and if it becomes a cause of enmity and violence, it is better not to have religion.6See for example, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks. Making peace is the essence of Bahá’u’lláh’s normative orientation and worldview. It is ironic, therefore, that both the King of Iran and the Ottoman Sultan rose together against Bahá’u’lláh to silence His voice by intriguing to exile Him to the city of ‘Akká; however, their oppressive decision in the end only exemplified the Hegelian concept of the cunning of Reason,7Georg W. F. Hegel, Reason in History (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1953), 25–56. in which Reason realizes its plan through the unintended consequences of actions by individuals whose intent is their own selfish desires. As Bahá’u’lláh has frequently stated, His response to this final exile ordered by these two kings was to publicly announce His message to the rulers of the world. Upon arrival in ‘Akká, He wrote messages to world leaders, including those of Germany, England, Russia, Iran, and France, as well as to the Pope, explicitly declaring His cause and calling them all to unite and bring about world peace. The second irony is that it was through this exile that He was brought to the Holy Land, where the coming of final peace in the world is prophesied to take place, when the wolf and lamb will feed together and swords will be beaten into plowshares.8Isaiah 11:6 and 2:4.

In order to better understand the vital connection between Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation and His concern with peace, let us examine that experience of revelation in the Tehran dungeon in 1852 which marks the birth of the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’u’lláh describes this experience:

One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side: Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen. Grieve Thou not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety. Erelong will God raise up the treasures of the earth—men who will aid Thee through Thyself and through Thy Name, wherewith God hath revived the hearts of such as have recognized Him.9Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, accessed 7 June 2018, http://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/epistle-son-wolf/#f=f2-35

This brief statement epitomizes many of the central teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, one of the most important of which is the replacement of the sword with the word. The victory of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh will take place through the person and character of Bahá’u’lláh and by means of His pen: words and their embodiment in deeds are the only means through which the message of Bahá’u’lláh can be promoted. Thus, the Islamic concept of jihad is abrogated, as is any concept of the religion and its propagation that includes violence, discrimination, coercion, avoidance, and hatred of others. Bahá’u’lláh continually presents the elimination of religious fanaticism, hatred, and violence as one of the main goals of His revelation.

This first experience of revelation defines the substantive message of the new religion in terms of the method of its promotion: A peaceful and dialogical method is the very essence of the new concept of peace and justice. Unlike doctrines that justify forms of violence and oppression as acceptable or even necessary methods of establishing peace and justice in the world, Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings categorically affirm the unity of substance and method in peace making: peace is realized through the way we live, the words we use, and the means we employ to bring about justice, unity, and peace. For Bahá’u’lláh, the time has come to reject the law of the jungle not only in our normative pronouncements about humanity but also in the methods we pursue in order to realize lofty ideals.10See Saiedi, From Oppression to Empowerment,The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 26:1–2 (Spring/Summer 2016), 28–30.

The word, or the pen, is central in Bahá’í philosophy. In the experience of revelation, there is a conversation between God and Bahá’u’lláh, which is an exact repetition of the conversation between God and Moses. According to the Qur’án, God gives two proofs to Moses: His staff and His shining hand. When Moses places His staff on the ground, it becomes a mighty snake, causing Him to become afraid and stand back. God tells Him: Be Thou not afraid, for Thou art in safety.11Qur’an 28:31. These same words are now uttered by God to Bahá’u’lláh,12While in translation they may appear to be slightly different, they are identical in the original Arabic. implying that the staff of Moses has been replaced by the pen of Bahá’u’lláh as His mighty proof of truth. Likewise, instead of the hand of Moses, the entire being and character of Bahá’u’lláh have become His new evidence. The immediate implication is the unity of Bahá’u’lláh and Moses. This reflects one of Bahá’u’lláh’s central teachings: that all the Manifestations of God are one and that They convey the same fundamental spiritual truth, leading to the principle of the harmony and unity of all religions.

This replacement of the staff with the pen further emphasizes the fact that His cause is rendered victorious through the effect of His words, rather than the performance of supernatural phenomena, or miracles; His message and His teachings constitute the supreme evidence of His truth. This replacement of physical miracles with the miracle of the spirit, namely the Word, is one of the central distinguishing features of Bahá’u’lláh’s worldview. But the most direct expression of the centrality of the pen in Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation is the new definition and conception of the human being offered in this first experience of revelation. The assertion that the cause of Bahá’u’lláh can only be rendered victorious by the pen implies that each soul possesses the capacity to independently recognize spiritual truth. Bahá’u’lláh frequently points out that all humans are created by God as mirrors of divine attributes, and because all individuals are responsible for realizing this divine gift, all the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, in one way or another, call for spiritual autonomy; no one should blindly follow or imitate any other in spiritual, political, and ethical issues. That is why priesthood has been eliminated in the Bahá’í religion and all Bahá’ís are equally and directly responsible before God. The implication of this spiritual autonomy is the utilization of democratic forms of decision making, as characterizes the Bahá’í administrative institutions. However, this form of democracy transcends the materialistic and partisan definition of the prevalent forms in society. Rather, it is a democracy of consultation based on a spiritual definition of reality that views all humans as noble beings endowed with rights.

One final implication of this first experience of revelation needs to be emphasized. According to Bahá’u’lláh’s description, the message of God was brought to Him by a Maid of Heaven. While God, the unknowable, is neither male nor female, the revelation of God through this Word, the supreme sacred reality in the created world, is presented as a feminine reality. Bahá’u’lláh received His revelation not from a tree, a bird, or a male angel, but rather from a female angel who metaphorically symbolizes the inner mystical truth of all the prophets of God. Therefore, the very inception of the Bahá’í revelation is characterized by a fundamental re-examination of the station of women. They are no longer the embodiments and symbols of selfish desires, irrationality, corruption, and worldly attraction; instead, they represent the supreme reflection of God in this world. At the same time, the removal of the sword in this first experience of revelation is a revolutionary critique of patriarchal culture and worldview. These two points are inseparable. The realization of a culture of peace requires the equality and unity of men and women, as violence and patriarchy are inseparable.

 


Revelation writing by one of Bahá’u’lláh’s secretaries

From Word Order to World Order

The Writings of Bahá’u’lláh cover a period of forty years, from His imprisonment in the Tehran dungeon in 1852 to His passing in 1892. In the following passage, He describes the purpose and the stages of His writings:

Behold and observe! This is the finger of might by which the heaven of vain imaginings was indeed cleft asunder. Incline thine ear and Hear! This is the call of My Pen which was raised among mystics, then divines, and then kings and rulers.13Bahá’u’lláh, Ishráqát (Tehran: Mu’assisiy-i-Millíy-i-Matbú‘át-i-Amrí, n.d.), 260. Provisional translation.

In the first part of this statement, Bahá’u’lláh presents the contrasting images of the finger of might and the heaven of vain imaginings. While the idea of cleaving the moon is attributed to the prophet Muhammad, now Bahá’u’lláh’s pen is rending not only the moon but the entire heaven, which represents the illusions, idle fancies, superstitions, and misconceptions that have erected walls of estrangement between human beings, have enslaved them, and have reduced their culture to the level of the animal. Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes that violence, oppression, and hatred are embodiments of vain imaginings and illusions constructed by human beings. Now, through his pen, He has come to tear away these veils, extinguish the fire of enmity and hatred, and bring people together.

In the second part of this statement, Bahá’u’lláh identifies the stages and order of His words, which were first addressed to mystics, then to divines, and finally to the kings and rulers of the world. His first writings, those written between 1852 and 1859, including the time He lived in Iraq, primarily address mystical concepts and categories.14See The Call of the Divine Beloved: Selected Mystical Works of Bahá’u’lláh (Haifa, Bahá’í World Centre, 2018), https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/call-divine-beloved/. Those of the second stage, encompassing His writings between 1859 and 1867, address the religious leaders and their interpretation of religion. Finally His writings from 1868 on, directed both to the generality of humankind and to the kings and rulers of the world, address social and political questions. Each stage emphasizes a certain principle of Bahá’u’lláh’s worldview, following the sequence of His spiritual logic. The principles corresponding to these stages are as follows: a spiritual interpretation of reality, historical consciousness—even the historicity of the words of God—and global consciousness. The worldview of Bahá’u’lláh is defined by the mutual interdependence of these three principles.

Each stage of the writings of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reinterpret and reconstruct traditional ideas and worldviews. Therefore, the dynamics of His writings can be described by His reconstruction of mysticism, religion, and the social order.

1. Reconstruction of Mysticism

In His earlier writings, Bahá’u’lláh directly engages with Persian and Islamic forms of mysticism; through these and His later writings, He reconstructs mysticism so as to realize its full potential. To understand this point, it is useful to refer to the twin concepts of the arc of descent (qaws-i-nuzúl) and arc of ascent (qaws-i-ṣu‘úd) which comprise the spiritual or mystical journey. The arc of descent is normally perceived as the descent of reality from God—the dynamics of material creation, culminating in the emergence of human life. As a consequence, however, human beings are estranged from their origin and their own truth, which is the unity of God. This yearning for reunion, in turn, initiates the arc of ascent, the mystical journey of the soul’s return to its source. The arc of ascent, as seen, for example, in the Seven Valleys, transcends the realm of conflict and plurality to discover the underlying truth of all reality, namely God.15 The stages of spiritual ascent are frequently referred to as seven valleys or seven cities. In ‘Aṭṭár’s Conference of the Birds these stages are: search/quest, love, knowledge, contentment/independence, unity, wonderment/bewilderment, and annihilation in God. Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys employs these stages, but He makes a slight change in the order, bringing contentment/independence after unity. See The Call of the Divine Beloved. With the annihilation of self that is found in this unity, one is assumed to have reached the zenith of the arc of ascent.

Although in traditional views of mystical consciousness, the zenith of the arc of ascent is the highest and end point of the spiritual journey, in reality this is just the beginning of a new stage. But in traditional consciousness all humans become sacred and equal only in God. In other words, only when living human beings, made of flesh and blood, are divested of their various determinations and turned into an abstraction do they become noble and sacred. For example, only when women are no longer women—that is, when their concrete determinations are negated and annulled in God—do they become equal to men. But concrete, living women remain inferior to men in rights, spiritual station, and rank. Thus despite the claim to see God in everything, the presence of social inequalities including slavery, patriarchy, religious discrimination, political despotism, and caste-like distinctions could go unchallenged.

For that reason, we need a further arc of descent to bring the fundamental insight and achievement of mystic oneness down to earth. In other words, after tracing the arc of ascent and attaining the consciousness of unity, one must be able to descend once again into the world of concrete plurality and time and maintain the consciousness of unity without being imprisoned in the consciousness of conflict and estrangement. In this way, the wayfarer is transformed into a new being who sees the unity of all in the concrete diversity of the world; in this arc of descent, one comes to see in all people their truth, or their divine attributes. The result of this consciousness is the end of the logic of separation, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred, and the beginning of the culture of the oneness of the human race, encompassing equal rights of all humans, the equality of men and women, religious tolerance and unity, and universal love for all people. Thus, according to Bahá’u’lláh, the real task of the mystic is not just the inward transformation of the annihilation of self in God but to transform the world so that the mystical truth of all human beings is manifested in the relations, structures, and institutions of social order. Since all beings become reflections of God, God and his unity are recognized within the diversity of moments and beings, resulting in the worldview of unity in diversity.

2. Reconstruction of Religion

The reconstruction of religion is, in fact, the first stage of the new arc of descent. In this first step, one descends from the unity of God and eternity to the diversity of the prophets and Manifestations of God. Here, history reveals a unity in diversity that reflects in its dynamics the unity of God: the Bahá’í view finds all the Manifestations of God to be one and the same, because they are reflections of divine unity and divine attributes. Since God is defined in the Torah, Gospel, and Qur’án as being the First and the Last, all the Manifestations are also the first and the last.16Examples are Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12, Revelation 1:8 and 22:13, and Qur’án 57:2. They are also the return of each other. Bahá’u’lláh views the realm of religion as the reflection of both diversity (of historical progress) and unity (of all the prophets). He says:

It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in divers attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of Being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendor! Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: I am the return of all the Prophets, He, verily, speaketh the truth. In like manner, in every subsequent Revelation, the return of the former Revelation is a fact, the truth of which is firmly established.17Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqán: The Book of Certitude (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983), 153–54.

In other words, the Word of God, which is the essence of all religions, is a living and dynamic reality. It is one Word that, at different historical moments, appears in new forms. The different prophets are like the same sun that appears at different times at a different place on the horizon. While the traditional approach to religion usually reduces the identity of the sun to its historically specific horizon and therefore emphasizes opposition and hostility among various religions, Bahá’u’lláh identifies the truth of all religions as one and calls for the unity of religions. In Bahá’u’lláh’s view, a major cause of violence, war, and oppression in the world is religious fanaticism created by the vain imaginings of religious leaders. He warned: Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.18Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, accessed 8 June 2018, http://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/epistle-son-wolf/#f=f2-19. The establishment of peace, then, requires overcoming such religious hatred and discord.

3. Reconstruction of the World

The second step of the new arc of descent relates to the wayfarer’s descent into the world. Here, the consciousness of unity necessarily leads to the principle of the oneness of humankind as well as to universal peace. In traditional religious consciousness, the relationship between the created and the Creator is repeated in all forms of social relations. Thus, the relation between men and women, kings and subjects, free persons and slaves, believers and non-believers, and even clerics and laymen repeat the relation between God and human beings. In this way, the illusion is created that domination, discrimination, violence, and opposition are legitimized by religion. In contrast, Bahá’u’lláh explains that the relation that truly obtains is that because all are created by God and are servants of God, all are equal. Instead of repeating in the realm of social order the relation of God to the created world, the servitude of all before God denotes the equality and nobility of all human beings. The task of true mysticism therefore is not to escape from the world, but rather to transform it so that it becomes a mirror of the republic of spirit or the kingdom of God. Bahá’u’lláh’s global consciousness and His concept of peace are embodiments of this reinterpretation of the world and social order, as reflected in the following statement in which He redefines what it is to be human:

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.19Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Maqṣúd (Tablet of Maqṣúd), Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 167.

The purpose of Bahá’u’lláh’s reinterpretation of mysticism, religion, and social order is to bring about a culture of unity in diversity and to institutionalize universal peace in the world. To discuss His specific concept of peace, it is necessary first to review the existing theories of peace in the social sciences and then identify the structure of Bahá’u’lláh’s vision.

 

Main Theories of Peace

With the outbreak of World War I, most social theorists took the side of their own country in the conflict and, in some cases, glorified war. Georg Simmel identifies war as an absolute situation in which ordinary, selfish preoccupations of individuals living in an impersonal economy are placed in an ultimate life-and-death situation. Thus, he concludes, war liberates the moral impulse from the boredom of routine life and makes individuals willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of society.20Georg Simmel, Der Krieg und die Geistigen Entscheidungen (Munich: Duncker and Humblot, 1917). On the other side, Durkheim and Mead both take strong positions against Germany. Discussing Treitschke’s worship of war and German superiority, Durkheim writes of a German mentality which led to the militaristic politics of that country.21Emile Durkheim, L’ Allemagne au-dessus de Tout: La Mentalité Allemande et la Guerre (Paris: Colin, 1915). Emile Durkheim, L’ Allemagne au-dessus de Tout: La Mentalité Allemande et la Guerre (Paris: Colin, 1915). A similar analysis is found in the writings of Mead, who contrasts German militaristic politics with Allied liberal constitutions. In a distorted and inaccurate presentation of Kant’s distinction between the realm of appearances and the things in themselves, Mead argues that in Kantian theory, the substantive determination of practical life is left in the hands of military elites. Such a state could by definition only rest upon force. Militarism became the necessary form of its life.22G. H. Mead, Immanuel Kant on Peace and Democracy in Self, War & Society: George Herbert Mead’s Macrosociology. Ed. Mary Jo Deegan (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2008), 159–74. However, modern social scientific literature in general and peace studies in particular offer various theories in regard to war and peace, four of which are particularly significant: realism, democratic peace theory, Marxist theory, and social constructivism and cultural theory.

1. Realism

Realism, the dominant theory in the field of international relations, is rooted in a Machiavellian and Hobbesian conception of human beings. According to this model, states are the main actors in international relations. However, the main determinant of a state’s decision to engage in war or peace is the international political and military structure. This structure, however, is none other than international anarchy; the Hobbesian state of nature is the dominant reality at the level of international relations, since there is no binding global law or authority in the world. In this situation, states are left in a situation necessitating self-help, with each regarding all others as potential or actual threats to its security. Thus, arms races and militarism are rational strategies for safeguarding national security. States must act in rational and pragmatic ways and must not be bound by either internal politics or moral principles in determining their policies. In this situation, war is a normal result of the structure of international relations. According to some advocates of this theory, the existence of nuclear weapons and a bi-polar military structure (as seen in the Cold War) are, paradoxically, conducive to peace.23See, for example, John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001).

2. Democratic Peace Theory

One of the most well-known theories in relation to war and peace is a liberal theory according to which democracies rarely—if ever—engage in war with each other. This doctrine was first advanced in 1875 by Immanuel Kant in his historic work Perpetual Peace.24Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939). In contrast to realism, democratic peace theory sees the root cause of war or peace in the internal political structure of societies. Empirical tests have confirmed the existence of a significant positive correlation between democracy and peace,25See Bruce Russet and John R. Oneal, Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and the International Organizations (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001). with two sets of explanations offered. Institutional explanations emphasize the existence of systematic restraining forces in democracies. The vote of the people matters in democracies, and therefore war is less likely to occur because it is the people rather than the rulers who will pay the ultimate price of war. Cultural explanations argue that democracies respect other democracies and are therefore more willing to engage in the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The internal habit of the democratic resolution of conflicts is said to be extended to the realm of foreign relations.26Among classical social theorists there is considerable sympathy for this theory. Durkheim, Mead, and Veblen all identified the cause of World War I as the undemocratic culture and politics of Germany and Japan. Similarly, Spencer finds political democracy compatible with peace.

3. Marxist Theory

Marxist theory can be discussed in terms of three issues: the relation of capitalism to war or peace, the role of violence in transition from capitalism to communism, and the impact of colonialism on the development of colonized societies. The dominant Marxist views on these issues are usually at odds with Marx’s own positions.

Marx did not address the issue of war and peace extensively. He shared the 19th century’s optimism about the outdated character of interstate wars. In fact, he mostly believed that capitalism benefits from peace and considered Napoleon’s wars a product of that ruler’s obsession with fame and glory.27Karl Marx, The Holy Family (Moscow: Foreign Language Pub. House, 1956), Ch. 6. As Mann argues, Marx saw capitalism as a transnational system and therefore regarded it as a cause of peace rather than war.28Michael Mann, War and Social Theory: Into Battle with Classes, Nations and States, in The Sociology of War and Peace, ed. Colin Creighton and Martin Shaw (Dobbs Ferry: Sheridan House, 1987). He believed that violence is mostly necessary for revolution but affirmed the possibility of peaceful transition to socialism in the most developed capitalist societies. Furthermore, Marx saw the colonization of non-European societies as mostly beneficial for the development of non-European stagnant societies, which in turn would lead to socialist revolutions. In the midst of World War I, Lenin (1870–1924) radically changed the Marxist theory of war and peace, arguing that imperialism or the competition for colonial conquest necessarily causes wars among Western capitalist states. According to Lenin, these wars would destroy capitalism and lead to the triumph of socialism. In his view, violence was the only possible way of attaining socialism.29Vladimir I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York: International Publishers, 1939).

Marxist theory has inspired many sociological theories of war and peace, from C. Wright Mills’s thesis of the military-industrial complex to Wallerstein’s theory of the world capitalist system.30See C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956) and Immanuel M. Wallerstein, The Politics of the World-Economy: The States, the Movements, and the Civilizations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). However, in general, most socialist theories see the root cause of war in the extremes of social inequality. Socialism, therefore, is perceived to be the economic order conducive to peace.

4. Social Constructivism and Cultural Theory

A sociological perspective that has influenced the field of international relations is the theory of social constructivism, which systematically criticizes the realist perspective. Emphasizing the symbolic and interpretive character of social relations and practices, this model, which is influenced by symbolic interactionism, states that war is a product of our socially constructed interpretations of ourselves and others. Mead’s emphasis on the social and interactive construction of self is compatible with a host of philosophical and sociological theories that have emphasized the significance of language in defining human reality. Unlike utilitarian and rationalist theories that perceive humans as selfish and competitive, the linguistic turn emphasizes the social and cooperative nature of human beings. Since being with others is the very constitutive element of human consciousness and self, the realization of peace requires a new social interpretive construction of reality.31See, for example, Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Cultural theories emphasize the causal significance of the culture of violence or peace as the main determinant of war or peace. John Mueller argues that prior to the 20th century, war was perceived as a natural, moral, and rational phenomenon.32John E. Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Book, 1989). However, through the First and Second World Wars, this culture changed. According to Mueller, the Western world is moving increasingly in this direction, with the non-Western world lagging behind, although the future is bright since we are moving towards a culture of peace.

 

Bahá’u’lláh’s Approach to Peace

After World War II and the rise of studies focusing on peace as a scholarly object of analysis, authors such as Johan Galtung distinguished between negative and positive definitions of peace, arguing that negative peace is both unstable and illusory, while positive peace is true peace.33Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1996). This preference for the positive definition provided the vision of a different theory of peace. According to the negative definition, war is a positive and objective reality, while peace simply refers to the absence of war and conflict. The positive definition of peace, on the other hand, views peace as an objective state of social reality defined by a form of reciprocal and harmonious relations that fosters mutual development and communication among individuals and groups. In this sense, war and violence indicate the absence of positive peace. Thus, even when there is no direct coercion and armed conflict, a state of war and aggression may still exist.34Concepts like structural, symbolic, and cultural violence are a few expressions of this new conception of the positive definition of peace.

It is interesting to note that both Bahá’u’lláh and His successor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844–1921) systematically and consistently advocate a unique positive definition of peace. Even the word that Bahá’u’lláh uses about the purpose of His revelation (iṣláh) means both reform or reconstruction and peace making. In many of his writings He calls for ‘imár (development) and iṣláh (peace making/reform/reconstruction) of the world.35Shoghi Effendi has translated isláh as security and peace, betterment, ennoblement, reconstruction, and improvement. Similarly , he has translated ‘imár as reconstruction, revival, and advancement. Thus, for Bahá’u’lláh, the realization of peace involves simultaneously a reform, reconstruction, and development of the institutions and structures of the world; mere desire is not a sufficient condition for the realization of a true and lasting peace, which requires a fundamental transformation in all aspects of human existence. While none of the existing theories provides an adequate path towards peace, each pointing only to aspects of the complex question of war and peace, Bahá’u’lláh’s multi-dimensional, positive approach encompasses all the factors addressed by different contemporary theories. The most explicit expression of this is found in His addresses to the leaders of the world, the Súrih of the Temple (Súriy-i-Haykal).36See The Summons of the Lord of Hosts: Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 2010). https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/summons-lord-hosts/

In 1868, in response to His exile to ‘Akká, Bahá’u’lláh wrote individual messages to a number of world leaders, which comprise different parts of the Súrih of the Temple. Although this work constitutes a universal announcement of His revelation, the main message is His call to universal peace. From this call, we see that the real insight offered by the realist theory of peace is not its pessimism regarding the inevitability of war but rather its linking of war with the lack of collective security. In the Súrih of the Temple, Bahá’u’lláh consistently calls for a global approach to peace and the institutionalization of global collective security as a necessary means of realizing peace. Similarly, the concerns addressed in democratic peace theory are also valid, and, although Bahá’u’lláh’s concept of democracy is far more complex than existing definitions and practices, in the Súrih of the Temple He praises democracy as a necessary element for the realization of peace. Impediments to peace such as social inequality, identified in Marxist/socialist theories, are also addressed in this Tablet, which calls for social justice and the elimination of poverty, and points to the arms race as a main cause of social inequality and poverty in the world. Finally, the contribution of the cultural theory in pointing to the need for a culture of peace should be acknowledged; however, such a culture should not be confused with mere consensus regarding the necessity of peace. Rather, in the Súrih of the Temple Bahá’u’lláh calls for a culture of peace based on a new definition of identity, a rejection of patriarchy, and the elimination of all kinds of prejudice.

Bahá’u’lláh sees lasting peace as a multidimensional structure of social relations that includes a culture of peace, democracy, collective security, and social justice, among other elements. These are not random variables or opposed concepts; rather, for Bahá’u’lláh all four are inseparable, interdependent, and harmonious expressions of His spiritual definition of human reality.

The Súrih of the Temple begins with a discussion of the human being as a sacred temple of God. According to Bahá’u’lláh’s writings, humans were created to exist in a state of cooperation, unity, and peace. The brutish culture of war and hatred is opposed to the reality of human beings, who are mirrors of God and reflect divine attributes; all are the thrones of God, created by the same Fashioner, brought into existence through the same creative divine Word and endowed with spiritual potentialities. That is why Bahá’u’lláh consistently calls the world the common home of all peoples and defines a human being as one who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.37Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Maqṣúd (Tablet of Maqṣúd), Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 167. This spiritual definition of humanity is centered on the rejection of the law of the jungle and the reduction of humans to that level. In the Tablet of Wisdom, Bahá’u’lláh says that humans are not created for enmity and hatred but rather for solidarity and cooperation. From this philosophical principle He deduces the necessity of a new definition of honor, in which true honor is associated with serving and loving the entire human race:

O ye beloved of the Lord! Commit not that which defileth the limpid stream of love or destroyeth the sweet fragrance of friendship. By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind.38Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Hikmat (Tablet of Wisdom), Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 138, para 5.

This spiritual definition of human beings is equated with the true meaning of freedom. Explaining Bahá’u’lláh’s message, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá identifies true freedom as overcoming the logic of the struggle for existence. The time has come for humans to appear as human beings and not as beasts:

And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is man’s freedom, that through the ideal Power he should be free and emancipated from the captivity of the world of nature; for as long as man is captive to nature he is a ferocious animal, as the struggle for existence is one of the exigencies of the world of nature. This matter of the struggle for existence is the fountain-head of all calamities and is the supreme affliction.39‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1997), 316, #227, para 20.

It is obvious that a culture of peace is a necessary reflection of Bahá’u’lláh’s definition of human beings. In this culture, identities are defined in terms of the reciprocal interdependence of human beings rather than contrast or opposition. Such a definition is based upon the Bahá’í concept of unity in diversity, perhaps the most well-known expression of which is Bahá’u’lláh’s aphorism:

O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.40Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Mánikc̲h̲í Ṣáḥib (Tablet to Mánikc̲h̲í Ṣáḥib), The Tabernacle of Unity: Bahá’u’lláh’s Responses to Mánikc̲h̲í Ṣáḥib and Other Writings (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 2006), 9, para 1.15.

It should be noted that in the above statement unity is not opposed to plurality but rather to estrangement. For Bahá’u’lláh, unity is unity in diversity. Like a tree, the human family consists of various fruits and leaves, but all belong to the same spiritual tree. In the original Persian, unity is yigánigí, and estrangement is bígánigí, its literal opposite. Therefore, a culture of peace is opposed both to a repressive negation of plurality and diversity and to an alienating concept of plurality that sees no possibility of communication, interdependence, and unity among the diverse units of social reality. The Bahá’í concept of unity affirms the diversity of communication but not a diversity of mutual alienation and estrangement.

In this new culture of peace called for in the Súrih of the Temple, a central component is the rejection of the violent culture of patriarchy. At the beginning of the Súrih, Bahá’u’lláh describes His first experience of revelation through the medium of the Maid of Heaven. As previously discussed, this means that the highest spiritual reality, the truth of all the Manifestations, is presented as a feminine reality:

While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden—the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord—suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt earth and heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God’s honoured servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in heaven and all who are on earth, saying: By God! This is the Best-Beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not.41Bahá’u’lláh, Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple), Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 5, para 6.

But if a culture of peace is the logical expression of Bahá’u’lláh’s spiritual definition of the human being, His praise of democracy is another organic expression of His spiritual worldview. As discussed earlier, Bahá’u’lláh’s understanding of humans as spiritual and rational beings is the reason for the replacement of the sword by the word. But His emphasis on the spiritual duty of each individual to think and search independently after truth is accompanied by His affirmation of the unity of all human beings. A natural consequence is His praise of consultation. For Bahá’u’lláh, both individuals’ independent thought and their spiritual unity are realized through the imperative of consultation. His statement, For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding (khirad) is made manifest through consultation,42Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet translated from the Persian, in Consultation: A Compilation, Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (February 1978, rev. November 1990), 3. http://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/compilations/consultation/. The word khirad, rendered as gift of understanding in English, is, literally, reason. ndicates that consultation reflects the maturation and realization of human spiritual powers. The wider the expanse of consultation, the greater the likelihood of attaining truth. Democracy is a natural expression of this principle. In the Súrih of the Temple, addressing the Queen of England (the only sovereign of a democratic nation who was addressed by Bahá’u’lláh), He praises both parliamentary democracy and the outlawing of the slave trade:

We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this…

…We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquilized.43Bahá’u’lláh, Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple), Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 89–90, paras 172–73.

Bahá’u’lláh’s rejection of slavery and His call for political democracy are inseparable expressions of the same spiritual definition of human beings, but His concept of democracy is far more complex than current approaches. First, He extends democracy not only to the level of nation states but also to international relations. His concept of collective security is an expression of His concept of global consultation and democratic subjugation of the law of the struggle for existence at the level of international relations. Second, He sees democracy as the art of consultation and not a constant war of domination, dehumanization, insult, and enmity among contending parties who are never willing to engage in consultation with one another.

This spiritual definition of human beings and the consequent rejection of the struggle for existence as a legitimate regulating principle of human relations necessarily calls for a system of collective security and for transcendence over a militaristic and animalistic culture of mutual estrangement. But this same definition of humans as noble beings is inseparable from the imperative of social and economic justice. While both pure communism and pure capitalism reduce humans to the level of the jungle and eliminate human freedom, social and economic justice are compatible with a culture of peace, democratic order, and collective security. In the Súrih of the Temple, Bahá’u’lláh calls for both an end to the arms race and movement towards economic justice as preconditions of a lasting peace:

O kings of the earth! We see you increasing every year your expenditures, and laying the burden thereof on your subjects. This, verily, is wholly and grossly unjust. Fear the sighs and tears of this Wronged One, and lay not excessive burdens on your peoples. Do not rob them to rear palaces for yourselves; nay rather choose for them that which ye choose for yourselves. Thus We unfold to your eyes that which profiteth you, if ye but perceive. Your people are your treasures. Beware lest your rule violate the commandments of God, and ye deliver your wards to the hands of the robber. By them ye rule, by their means ye subsist, by their aid ye conquer. Yet, how disdainfully ye look upon them! How strange, how very strange!

… Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.44Bahá’u’lláh, Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple), Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 93–94, paras 179 and 182.

Thus, in Bahá’u’lláh’s worldview, humanity has arrived at a new stage in its historical development, one that is defined by the realization of the unity in diversity of the entire world—the manifestation of the spiritual truth of all human beings. While the modern global cultural turn towards the appreciation of peace is often understood as a product of the revolt against religion and spirituality, the opposite is, in fact, true. As recent postmodern and relativistic philosophies have made clear, a materialistic philosophy is most compatible either with relativity of values or affirmation of the law of nature, namely the struggle for existence. In contrast, a noble conception of all human beings and the affirmation of their equal rights are based upon a spiritual understanding of human reality. In the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, a reconstructed mystical and spiritual consciousness is the necessary foundation of the twin principles of the oneness of humankind and universal peace.

By Bahá'í World News Service

The sun rises in the Congolese village of Ditalala, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air. For generations, the people of this village have been drinking coffee, which they grow themselves, before heading out to work on their farms.

Over the past few years, this morning tradition has come to take on a deeper significance. Many families in the village have been inviting their neighbors to join them for coffee and prayers before starting the day.

“They’ve transformed that simple act of having a cup of coffee in the morning,” says a recent visitor to Ditalala, reflecting on her experience. “It was truly a community-building activity. Friends from the neighboring houses would gather while the coffee was being made, say prayers together, then share the coffee while laughing and discussing the issues of the community. There was a sense of true unity.”


Neighbors enjoy a morning coffee together in Ditalala.


In Ditalala, villagers prepare for the day by gathering for prayers.

The central African nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced, for over a century, a series of violent struggles. The most recent war from 1998–2002 is estimated to have claimed over 5.4 million lives, making it the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II. For the last two years, it has been the country with the highest number of people displaced by conflict—according to the United Nations, approximately 1.7 million Congolese fled their homes due to insecurity in the first six months of 2017 alone.

Yet, there are communities throughout the country that are learning to transcend the traditional barriers that divide people. Inspired by Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, they are striving for progress both material and spiritual in nature. They are concerned with the practical dimensions of life, as well as with the qualities of a flourishing community like justice, connectedness, unity, and access to knowledge.

“What we are learning is that when there are spaces to come together and discuss the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh in relation to the challenges facing their community, people will come and consult about what we can do together to find solutions to our problems,” reflects Izzat Mionda Abumba, who has been working for many years with educational programs for children and youth.

“When everyone is given access to these spaces, there is nothing that separates us—it’s no longer about who are Bahá’ís and who are not Bahá’ís. We are all reading these writings and in discussing them we find the paths to the solutions for whatever we are doing. Inspiration comes from these writings and directives,” he says.

The story of this country is a remarkable one. The process which is unfolding seeks to foster collaboration and build capacity within all people—regardless of religious background, ethnicity, race, gender, or social status—to arise and contribute to the advancement of civilization. Among the confusion, distrust, and obscurity present in the world today, these burgeoning communities in the DRC are hopeful examples of humanity’s capacity to bring about profound social transformation.



A path to collective prosperity

The village of Walungu is in South Kivu, a province on the eastern side of the country, bordering Rwanda and Burundi. In recent years, a spirit of unity and collaboration has become widespread among the people of Walungu. They pray together in different settings, bringing neighbor together with neighbor, irrespective of religious affiliation. This growing devotional character has been complemented by a deep commitment to serving the common good.

At the heart of Walungu’s transformation has been the dedication of the village to the intellectual and spiritual development of the children.

Walungu is a remote area of the country. Years ago, the community was not satisfied with the state of formal education available for their children. In response, a group of parents and teachers established a school in the village with the assistance of a Bahá’í-inspired organization that provides teacher training and promotes the establishment of community-based schools.

Distinct from traditional educational institutions, community schools, such as the one in Walungu, are initiated, supported, and encouraged by the local community. Parents, extended family, other members of the community, and even the children have a deep sense of ownership and responsibility for the functioning of their school.

When the school opened in 2008, it was comprised of only one grade taught by a single teacher. After a year, the community was able to add another grade and employ a second teacher. Gradually, the school grew, adding more students, grades, and teachers. Today, it is a full primary school with over 100 students.

 


A teacher presents a lesson in a community school in Walungu, Democratic Republic of Congo.


A student at a community school in Walungu, Democratic Republic of Congo


Children in class at a community school in Walungu, Democratic Republic of Congo

However, the community faced certain challenges as the school began to grow larger. They did not have the funds to pay the teachers a salary or take care of the school. Realizing that something needed to be done to support the school financially, they called a meeting with all the parents and others involved. At the meeting, the director of the school suggested that he could teach them how to weave baskets, and that if they could sell the baskets in the market they would have some funds that could be used to pay the school fees. Sixty-seven parents signed up, happy at the prospect of learning a new skill and being able to support their children’s education themselves. To this day, all of them are still weaving baskets, which are sold in the markets of the surrounding villages.

Basket-weaving has remained a collective activity—typically, the parents gather to work on them together, sometimes teaching each other new weaving techniques. And these gatherings have become something more. They are a space to talk about spiritual and profound matters as well.

“The women and men are not coming only to weave,” explains Mireille Rehema Lusagila, who is involved in the work of building healthy and vibrant communities. “They begin with a devotional meeting, they read holy writings together. They are improving their literacy, teaching each other how to read and write. The people there have told me that this activity is helping them not only to progress in a material sense but also on a spiritual level.”


Members of the community in Walungu weave baskets and sell them in the markets to raise funds for the functioning of their community school.

Towards unity, youth lead the way

Along the eastern border of the country in the Kivu region, young people are taking ownership of the development of the next generation. In the village of Tuwe Tuwe, there are 15 youth working with some 100 young adolescents and children, helping them to develop a deep appreciation for unity and navigate a crucial stage of their lives.

For several years, youth have been at the vanguard of transformation in this community. In 2013, a group of young Bahá’ís and their friends returned from a youth conference with a great desire to resolve the tension and hostility between their villages.

At the conference, the group studied themes essential to a unified community, such as the importance of having noble goals, the idea of spiritual and material prosperity, the role of youth in serving and improving their localities, and how to support each other in undertaking meaningful action.

In reflecting on the experience, Mr. Abumba, who travels often in the region to support Bahá’í-inspired educational programs, shares a story about how these young people became a force for unity.

“When these youth returned to their respective communities they saw that hostilities were increasing between their two villages because of conflict over their agricultural fields. The youth asked themselves: ‘what can we do to find a solution and help the adults understand that we should live in harmony?’ And they decided to take action together,” says Mr. Abumba.

“The idea they came up with was to organize a football match involving the youth of both villages and to hold it in a field between the villages, in the hopes that the parents would come and watch. For them, it was not about who would win or lose the match. Their goal was to bring a large number of people from both villages together to the same place and to try to give a message about how to live in unity.”

These young people prepared for the match—they bought a football and created the teams of each village with members of different tribes. Finally, the moment came. Quite a big crowd from both villages turned up because it was a Sunday. Those watching were impressed by the way the youth played for the joy of the game.

“Then at the end of the match, the youth spoke to the crowd,” explains Mr. Abumba. “They said ‘You have seen how we played and how there was no conflict between the youth of one village and the youth of the other village. And we believe that our villages are capable of this, of living like the children of one same family.’ Then the chiefs of the villages took the stage and told those gathered that it was time to turn a new page and start to live and work together.

“In these villages, there are different tribes who are often in conflict,” Mr. Abumba concludes. “The people there are drawing on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to find ways to address these deep-rooted problems. And the Bahá’í-inspired educational programs are giving youth in particular a voice to be a force for positive change in their communities.”

 

A village named ‘Peace’

A remote village in the central part of the country, Ditalala is connected to the closest town by a 25 kilometer path, sometimes travelled on foot, sometimes via off-road vehicle.

Susan Sheper, who has lived in the DRC since the 1980s, recalls that on her first visit to Ditalala 31 years ago, some Bahá’ís had come to meet her at the train and walk with her on the five-hour journey by foot to the village. “We got off the train and were just enveloped by this group of singing, happy Bahá’ís, and then they said to us, ‘Can you walk a little bit?’”

And with that Mrs. Sheper was on her way, with an escort of singing Bahá’ís, walking 25 kilometers through the night.

“It was an extraordinary experience,” Mrs. Sheper recalls, “and they never stopped singing, they would just move from one song to the next. You know, they have that experience of having to walk long distances, and it’s the singing that keeps you going because your feet just move to the rhythm.”

 




Music infuses every aspect of life in the village of Ditalala.

Although at that time there was a vibrant Bahá’í community in the village, which used to be called Batwa Ditalala, there were distinct barriers between different groups, including the Bahá’ís.

“So flash forward 31 years, and I went back to Batwa Ditalala,” says Mrs. Sheper. “And one of the things I learned very quickly was that it was no longer called Batwa Ditalala.”

The term Batwa refers to the Batwa people, who are one of the main “Pygmy” groupings in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have been marginalized and exploited because of discrimination against them based on their hunter-gatherer way of life and their physical appearance. This has created a complex reality of prejudice and conflict wherever they live in close proximity to settled agricultural populations.

“But today, those barriers have been so broken down by Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings of oneness and the elimination of prejudice, they no longer call the village Batwa Ditalala. They just call it Ditalala,” Mrs. Sheper explains.

The word ditalala means peace in the local language—and the village itself has been transformed by a vision of peace.

“The people there told me that there used to be very distinct divisions between them in the village, but that because of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings they don’t see themselves as different tribes anymore, they see themselves as being united,” Mrs. Sheper relates. “They told me that life is much better when there is no prejudice.”

Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings have reached almost everyone in Ditalala and their influence is evident in many dimensions of the lives of the population. Today, over 90 percent of the village participates in Bahá’í community-building activities, ranging from coffee and prayers in the mornings to spiritual and moral education classes for people of all ages.

Ditalala’s chief often supports the activities of the Bahá’í community. He encourages the community to gather for consultation, a central feature of decision-making for Bahá’ís.

 

 


Singing at a community gathering in Walungu


Chiefs in the village of Ditalala, Democratic Republic of Congo

The people have also undertaken a number of endeavors to improve their social and material well-being, including agricultural, maternal healthcare, and clean water projects; constructing a road; and establishing a community school.

 


Weaving work in Ditalala

A luminous community

Throughout the DRC, tens of thousands of people have responded to the message of Bahá’u’lláh. The celebrations of the 200th anniversary of His birth in October were extraordinarily widespread—countless numbers participated in the festivities held across the country. It is estimated that as many as 20 million people saw the television broadcast of the national commemoration, attended by prominent government and civil society leaders.

The country has also been designated by the Universal House of Justice as one of two that will have a national Bahá’í House of Worship in the coming years.

Amidst all of its recent developments, what stands out so vividly about the community is that it is moving forward together.

The podcast associated with this Bahá’í World News Service story, can be found here.

 

By Matt Weinberg

At the heart of human experience lies an essential yearning for self-definition and self-understanding. Developing a conception of who we are, for what purpose we exist, and how we should live our lives is a basic impulse of human consciousness. This project—of defining the self and its place in the social order—expresses both a desire for meaning and an aspiration for belonging. It is a quest informed by ever-evolving and interacting narratives of identity.

Today, as the sheer intensity and velocity of change challenges our assumptions about the nature and structure of social reality, a set of vital questions confront us. These include: What is the source of our identity? Where should our attachments and loyalties lie? And if our identity or identities so impel us, how—and with whom—should we come together? And what is the nature of the bonds that bring us together?

The organization and direction of human affairs are inextricably connected to the future evolution of our identity. For it is from our identity that intention, action, and social development flow. Identity determines how we see ourselves and conceive our position in the world, how others see us or classify us, and how we choose to engage with those around us. “Knowing who we are,” the sociologist Philip Selznick observes, “helps us to appreciate the reach as well as the limits of our attachments.”1Philip Selznick, “Civility and Piety as Foundations of Community,” The Journal of Bahá’í Studies, Vol. 14, number ½, March-June 2004. Also see Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 388—9.  Such attachments play a vital role in shaping our “authentic selves” and in determining our attitudes toward those within and outside the circle of our social relationships. Acting on the commitments implied by these attachments serves to amplify the powers of individuals in effecting societal well-being and advancement. Notions of personal and collective identity can thus exert considerable influence over the norms and practices of a rapidly integrating global community.

As we have many associational linkages, identity comes in a variety of forms. At times we identify ourselves by our family, ethnicity, nationality, religion, mother tongue, race, gender, class, culture, or profession. At other times our locale, the enterprises and institutions we work for, our loyalty to sports teams, affinity for certain types of music and cuisine, attachment to particular causes, and educational affiliations provide definitional aspects to who we are. The sources of identification which animate and ground human beings are immensely diverse. In short, there are multiple demands of loyalty placed upon us, and consequently, our identities, as Nobel laureate Amaryta Sen has noted, are “inescapably plural.”2Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence—The Illusion of Destiny (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), p. xiii.

But which identity or identities are most important? Can divergent identities be reconciled? And do these identities enhance or limit our understanding of and engagement with the world? Each of us on a daily basis, both consciously and unconsciously, draws upon, expresses, and mediates between our multiple senses of identity. And as our sphere of social interaction expands, we tend to subsume portions of how we define ourselves and seek to integrate into a wider domain of human experience. This often requires us to scrutinize and even resist particular interpretations of allegiance that may have a claim on us. We therefore tend to prioritize which identities matter most to us. As the theorist Iris Marion Young stresses: “Individuals are agents: we constitute our own identities, and each person’s identity is unique…A person’s identity is not some sum of her gender, racial, class, and national affinities. She is only her identity, which she herself has made by the way that she deals with and acts in relation to others…”3Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 101—2.  The matrix of our associations surely influences how we understand and interpret the world, but cannot fully account for how we think, act, or what values we hold. That a particular identity represents a wellspring of meaning to an individual need not diminish the significance of other attachments or eclipse our moral intuition or use of reason. Affirming affinity with a specific group as a component of one’s personal identity should not limit how one views one’s place in society or the possibilities of how one might live.

While it is undoubtedly simplistic to reduce human identity to specific contextual categories such as nationality or culture, such categories do provide a strong narrative contribution to an individual’s sense of being. “Around the world,” the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah writes, “it matters to people that they can tell a story of their lives that meshes with larger narratives. This may involve rites of passage into womanhood and manhood; or a sense of national identity that fits into a larger saga. Such collective identification can also confer significance upon very individual achievements.”4Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 68.  Social, cultural, and other narratives directly impact who we are. They provide context and structure for our lives, allowing us to link what we wish to become to a wider human inheritance, thereby providing a basis for meaningful collective life. Various narratives of identity serve as vehicles of unity, bringing coherence and direction to the disparate experiences of individuals.

In the wake of extraordinary advances in human knowledge, which have deepened global interchange and contracted the planet, we now find ourselves defined by overlapping identities that encompass a complex array of social forces, relations, and networks. The same person, for instance, can be a Canadian citizen of African origin who descends from two major tribes, fluent in several languages, an engineer, an admirer of Italian opera, an alumnus of a major American university, a race-car enthusiast, a practitioner of yoga, an aficionado of oriental cuisine, a proponent of a conservative political philosophy, and an adherent of agnosticism who nevertheless draws on insights found in the spiritual traditions of his forebears. One can simultaneously be a committed participant in local community affairs such as improving elementary-level education and an ardent supporter of transnational causes like human rights and environmental stewardship. Such juxtapositions of identity illustrate how individuals increasingly belong to multiple “communities of fate” in which long-existing spatial boundaries are being entirely redrawn and reconceptualized.5David Held and Anthony McGrew, Globalization/Anti-Globalization (Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2002), p. 91.  Modernity has transformed identity in such a way that we must view ourselves as being not only in a condition of dependence or independence but also interdependence.

The recasting of longstanding narratives of identification and affiliation is giving rise to widespread anxiety, grievance, and perplexity. In the eyes of many, the circumstances of daily life lie beyond their control. In particular, “the nation-state…that preeminent validator of social identity—no longer assures well-being,” the anthropologist Charles Carnegie avers.6Charles Carnegie, Postnationalism Prefigured: Carribbean Borderlands (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press), p. 1.  Other established sources of social cohesion and expressions of collective intention are similarly diminished in their efficacy to ground the actions of populations around the planet, resulting in a sense of disconnection and alienation. The philosopher Charles Taylor attributes such disruption of customary social patterns to the “massive subjective turn of modern culture,” involving an overly atomistic and instrumental view of individual identity.7Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 26.  This exaggerated individualism accompanies the dislocation from historic centers of collectivity that is a repercussion of the centrifugal stresses of globalization. Against this kaleidoscope of change, including the major migrations of peoples, the international nature of economic production, and the formation of communities of participation across territorial borders through the means of modern communications, the concept of citizenship, as membership in a confined geographic polity, is in need of reformulation.

Our connections to others now transcend traditional bounds of culture, nation, and community. The unprecedented nature of these connections is radically reshaping human organization and the scale and impact of human exchange. But globalization has been with us a long time; the movement of peoples, goods, and ideas is an inherent feature of human history and development. Virtually every culture is linked to others by a myriad ties.8For example, many important concepts in modern science and mathematics find their genesis in the work of Chinese and Indian thinkers, some of which were later elaborated and transmitted to the West by Muslim innovators. Asian culture and architecture was greatly influenced by the movements of the Mughals and Mongols. The Bantu migrations spread ironworking and new agricultural methods across Africa. The great distances covered across oceans by the Vikings and the Polynesians; the movements and engineering achievements of indigenous societies in the Americas; the existence of Ming china in Swahili graves; and the spread of the tomato and the chili from the Americas to Europe and Asia illustrate the extent of human migration and interchange throughout the ages.

Culture is neither static nor homogeneous. Anthropological and sociological research reveals that cultures cannot be seen as fixed, indivisible wholes. The various manifestations of “social belonging” exhibit a “constructed and pliable nature.”9 Charles Carnegie, Postnationalism Prefigured, p. 9.  Cultural resiliency has much to do with heterogeneity, assimilation of outside ideas, and the capacity to adapt. “We should view human cultures as constant creations, recreations, and negotiations of imaginary boundaries between ‘we’ and the ‘other(s)’,” the political scientist Seyla Benhabib emphasizes.10Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 8.  The multifarious processes of integration now at work are serving to accentuate and accelerate such social, economic, and cultural interchange. Under these conditions, Benhabib adds, presumed lines of cultural demarcation are increasingly “fluid, porous and contested.”11Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 184. To perceive cultures, then, as objects of stasis, immune from the complex dialogues and interactions of human existence, is a fundamental epistemological and empirical error. As Appiah maintains: “Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead.”12Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Case for Contamination,” The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 1, 2006.

Often, the insistence that the essence of cultural distinctiveness is its putative immutability emerges from a sincere desire to preserve and honor the power of an existing collective narrative. What is at issue here is a legitimate fear that valued identities may be lost or overwhelmed by unfamiliar external forces. Although an advocate of cultural rights designed to prevent such unwanted change, the theorist Will Kymlicka notes that “most indigenous peoples understand that the nature of their cultural identity is dynamic…”13Will Kymlicka, cited in Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, p. 132.  From this vantage point, Kymlicka believes that globalization “provides new and valued options by which nations can promote their interests and identities.”14 Will Kymlicka, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 323.  This suggests that a balance must be sought between the requirements of self-determination and the possibility of defining an aspect of self-determination as participation in the construction of a broader collectivity. Participation of this kind by a diverse array of cultures and peoples offers the promise of enriching the entire fabric of civilized life.

Recognition of the reality of globalization, however, does not mean that the current inequities associated with the process—how resources, opportunities, and power are distributed—should go unchallenged. And perhaps more important, the exhausted ideologies and intellectual frameworks that allow such inequities to persist must also be directly confronted.15For a in-depth exploration of this point, see the Bahá’í International Community statements, “The Prosperity of Humankind”, 1995, and “Who is Writing the Future?”, 1999.  It is here where the insights provided by diverse human traditions and value systems can engage with the constructive phenomena of contemporary change to open new frontiers of identity—frontiers offering a peaceful and just future.

In 1945, aware of the imminent test of the first atomic weapon, Franklin D. Roosevelt warned: “Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.”16These were among the last words penned by Roosevelt which, due to his death, were not delivered. See http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450413b.html Clearly, the perceptions that human beings hold of themselves and each other matter. In a world convulsed by contention and conflict, conceptions of identity that feed the forces of prejudice and mistrust must be closely examined. Assertions that certain populations can be neatly partitioned into oppositional categories of affiliation deserve particular scrutiny. The notion of civilizational identity as the predominant expression of human allegiance is one such problematic example.17Samuel Huntington, in his seminal article “The Clash of Civilizations?”, posits that global stability will be determined by the interactions among what he calls Western, Hindu, Islamic, Sinic, African, Latin American, Buddhist, and Orthodox Christian civilizations. Huntington writes: “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” See Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993.  For Amartya Sen, such thinking leads to “conceptual disarray” that can undermine international stability.

To view the relationships between different human beings as mere reflections of the relations between civilizations is questionable on both logical and pragmatic grounds. First, civilizations themselves are not monolithic in character; indeed, their vast internal diversity is among their distinguishing features. Second, as we have seen, reducing personhood to a “singular affiliation” denies the essential variety and complexity of human experience.18Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, p. 20.  Of most concern, argues Sen, is the danger that assigning “one preeminent categorization” to human beings will exacerbate and harden conceptions of difference between peoples.19Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, p. 16.  This presumption of a “unique and choiceless identity,” that people are what they are because they have been born into a certain ethnic, cultural, or religious inheritance, is an “illusion” that underlies many of the “conflicts and barbarities in the world.”20Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, p. xv.  “Reasoned choice,” Sen believes, must be used to examine the intrinsic merit of our antecedent associations as well as the broader social ramifications of identity.21 Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, p. 8.

“A tenable global ethics,” Kwame Anthony Appiah concurs, “has to temper a respect for difference with a respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices.”22Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Case for Contamination,” The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 1, 2006.  For this reason, there exists an intimate relationship between cultural diversity and liberty. A sustainable and authentic expression of collective development must be a freely chosen path pursued by the members composing the group in question; current generations cannot impose their vision of what a desirable form of life is upon future generations. Existing mores, practices, and institutions can inform, validate, and even ennoble the human condition, but cannot or should not foreclose new moral or social directions for individuals and communities. Indeed, collective learning and adjustment are defining characteristics of social evolution. Because our perceptions and experiences change, our understanding of reality necessarily undergoes change. So too, then, do our identities change. “The contours of identity are profoundly real,” Appiah states, “and yet no more imperishable, unchanging, or transcendent than other things that men and women make.”23Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, p. 113.  At the same time, “if we create a society that our descendants will want to hold on to, our personal and political values will survive in them.”24wame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, p. 137.

Significant portions of the world’s peoples, we know though, are deprived of the autonomy necessary to develop a plan of life or a corresponding identity that can inspire and assist them to realize life goals. The widespread subordinate social position of women and minorities restricts the latitude of their self-determination; members of these groups are frequently denied, in a systematic way, the chance to fully explore their individual potential and to contribute to the processes of cultural, social, and moral advancement. Constructions of identity can therefore be quite tenuous for marginalized groups or individuals whose personal characteristics fall outside received categories of classification. This can be especially true for persons of mixed ethnic, racial, or religious descent. Concepts of race and nation can serve as powerful instruments and symbols of unity, but can also lead to the isolation, dispossession, and “symbolic dismemberment” of minorities.25Charles Carnegie, Postnationalism Prefigured, p. 17.  In this regard, Charles Carnegie’s call for a “new consciousness of belonging” seems vital.26Charles Carnegie, Postnationalism Prefigured, p. 9.

The prevalent stance that identity is about difference is untenable. Perceiving identity through the relativistic lens of separation or cultural preservation ignores compelling evidence of our common humanity and can only aggravate the forces of discord and disagreement now so pervasive in the world. The only alternative to this path of fragmentation and disunity is to nurture affective relationships across lines of ethnicity, creed, territory, and color—relationships that can serve as the warp and woof of a new social framework of universal solidarity and mutual respect. A one-dimensional understanding of human beings must be rejected. As Amartya Sen underscores: “The hope of harmony in the contemporary world lies to a great extent in a clearer understanding of the pluralities of human identity, and in the appreciation that they cut across each other and work against a sharp separation along one single hardened line of impenetrable division.”27Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, p. xiv. This is an appeal for imagination in creating new ways of being and living; for a new vision of human nature and society—one that recognizes the unmistakable shared destiny of all peoples. The resolution of the problems now engulfing the planet demands a more expansive sense of human identity. As articulated by Bahá’u’lláh more than a century ago: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”28Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/696472436

The crucial need of the present hour is to determine the conceptual and practical steps that will lay the foundations of an equitable and harmonious global order. Effectively addressing the crises now disrupting human affairs will require new models of social transformation that recognize the deep interrelationship between the material, ethical, and transcendent dimensions of life. It is evident that such models can emerge only from a fundamental change in consciousness about who we are, how we regard others who enter our ambit—no matter how near or distant, and how we collectively design the structures and processes of social life, whether local or global.

Such observations lead to yet more questions. In a world of pluralistic identities and rapidly shifting cultural and moral boundaries, is a common understanding of human purpose and action possible? Can a genuine cosmopolitan ethic, one that fully embraces human diversity, emerge from the multiple experiences and perceptions of modernity?

A basis of an affirmative Bahá’í response to these questions can be found in Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortations to the world’s peoples to “set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you,”29Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/407719266 and to “let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self.”30 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/294539200 For Bahá’ís, though, such a perspective is not simply a matter of belief or hopeful aspiration, but is grounded in experience.

A conviction of the practicality of world unity and peace, coupled with an unwavering dedication to work toward this goal, is perhaps the single most distinguishing characteristic of the Bahá’í community. That this community is now representative of the diversity of the entire human race, encompassing virtually every national, ethnic, and racial group on the planet, is an achievement that cannot be casually dismissed. The worldwide Bahá’í community, as an organic whole, eschews dichotomies prevalent in public discourse today, such as “North” and “South,” and “developed” and “underdeveloped.” Bahá’ís everywhere, irrespective of the degree of material well-being of their nations, are striving to apply the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to the process of building unified patterns of collective life. In this undertaking, every member of the community is a valued participant. In this respect, the roots of Bahá’í motivation and the formation of Bahá’í identity have a long history.

In the early part of the twentieth century, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—Bahá’u’lláh’s son and appointed successor—urged the some 160 Bahá’í inhabitants of a small village in a remote part of Iran who were experiencing persecution to “regard every ill-wisher as a well-wisher.… That is, they must associate with a foe as befitteth a friend, and deal with an oppressor as beseemeth a kind companion. They should not gaze upon the faults and transgressions of their foes, nor pay heed to their enmity, inequity or oppression.”31Cited in Century of Light, Bahá’í World Centre, 2001. Available at www.bahai.org/r/031947140.  And further, they should “show forth love and affection, wisdom and compassion, faithfulness and unity towards all, without any discrimination.”32Cited in Century of Light, Bahá’í World Centre, 2001. Available at www.bahai.org/r/690838011  But apart from enjoining upon them an attitude of remarkable forbearance and amity, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not address these followers as simple rural people with narrow parochial concerns. Rather, He affirmed their innate dignity by speaking to them as citizens of the world who had the capacity and the power to contribute to the advancement of civilization:

O ye beloved of the Lord! With the utmost joy and gladness, serve ye the human world, and love ye the human race. Turn your eyes away from limitations, and free yourselves from restrictions, for … freedom therefrom brings about divine blessings and bestowals…

Therefore, so long as there be a trace of life in one’s veins, one must strive and labour, and seek to lay a foundation that the passing of centuries and cycles may not undermine, and rear an edifice which the rolling of ages and aeons cannot overthrow—an edifice that shall prove eternal and everlasting, so that the sovereignty of heart and soul may be established and secure in both worlds.33Cited in Century of Light, Bahá’í World Centre, 2001. Available at www.bahai.org/r/416856683

In short, the perceptions, preferences, and assumptions of the denizens of this small, isolated village were radically transformed. Their identity had been remade. They no longer were concerned just with local matters, and even though they were far removed from the mainstream of intellectual and cultural exchange, they regarded themselves as “servants” of the “entire human race,” and as protagonists in the building of a new way of life. They understood their “ultimate sphere of work as the globe itself.”34Cited in Century of Light, Bahá’í World Centre, 2001. Available at www.bahai.org/r/463388482 That the broader Iranian Bahá’í community achieved, over the course of three generations, levels of educational advancement and prosperity well beyond the general population, even under conditions of severe religious discrimination, underscores the capacities that can be released when the moral and spiritual dimensions of human consciousness are awakened and purposively channeled.35Through adherence to and active implementation of spiritual precepts, the Iranian Bahá’í community effectively eliminated poverty and achieved universal literacy over the span of six to seven decades. Commitment to the principles of human equality and nobility, moral rectitude, collaborative decision-making, education—particularly of girls, of the exalted station of work, cleanliness and good hygiene, and respect for scientific knowledge as applied to agriculture, commerce and other avenues of human endeavor constituted the basis of a spiritually inspired process of social advancement. For additional perspective on the Bahá’í approach to social and economic progress see Bahá’í International Community, “For the Betterment of the World”, 2002; and In Service to the Common Good: The American Bahá’í Community’s Commitment to Social Change, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, 2004.  For those interested in apprehending the sources and mechanisms of individual and community empowerment, it would be difficult to find a more compelling example of social transformation than the case of the Iranian Bahá’ís.

In response to Bahá’u’lláh’s call for the creation of a universal culture of collaboration and conciliation, Bahá’ís drawn from almost every cultural and religious tradition “have achieved a sense of identity as members of a single human race, an identity that shapes the purpose of their lives and that, clearly, is not the expression of any intrinsic moral superiority on their own part…”36One Common Faith, Bahá’í World Centre, 2005. Available at www.bahai.org/r/969956715 It is an accomplishment “that can properly be described only as spiritual—capable of eliciting extraordinary feats of sacrifice and understanding from ordinary people of every background.”37One Common Faith, Bahá’í World Centre, 2005. Available at www.bahai.org/r/969956715

So it is clear that from a Bahá’í perspective, a universal identity is a vital precursor to action that is universal in its effects—to the “emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture.”38Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/580032274 In emphasizing our global identity, Bahá’u’lláh presents a conception of life that insists upon a redefinition of all human relationships—between individuals, between human society and the natural world, between the individual and the community, and between individual citizens and their governing institutions.39Bahá’í International Community, The Prosperity of Humankind, 1995. Humanity has arrived at the dawn of its maturity, when its “innate excellence”and latent creative capacities can at last find complete expression.40 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/494001842 Accordingly, new social forms and ethical precepts are enunciated in the Bahá’í teachings so that human consciousness can be freed from patterns of response set by tradition, and the foundations of a global society can be erected.

Bahá’u’lláh thus speaks to the reshaping and redirection of social reality. That all individual action and social arrangements must be informed by the principle of the oneness of human relationships, gives rise to a concept of moral and social order that safeguards personal dignity while deepening human solidarity. In recognition of this central insight, the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í community, urges all to “embrace the implications of the oneness of humankind, not only as the inevitable next step in the advancement of civilization, but as the fulfillment of lesser identities of every kind that our race brings to this critical moment in our collective history.”41Universal House of Justice, Letter to the World’s Religious Leaders, April 2002.

From the basic principle of the unity of the world’s peoples are derived virtually all notions concerning human welfare and liberty. If the human race is one, any assertion that a particular racial, ethnic, or national group is in some way superior to the rest of humanity must be dismissed; society must reorganize its life to give practical expression to the principle of equality for all its members regardless of race, creed, or gender;41 each and every person must be enabled to “look into all things with a searching eye” so that truth can be independently ascertained42Bahá’u’lláh emphatically states that “women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God.” He insists upon the emancipation of women from long-entrenched patterns of subordination and calls for the full participation of women in the social, economic, and political realms of civilized life. Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice (Thornhill, Ontario: Bahá’í Canada Publications, 1986), No. 54. Concerning racial equality, Bahá’u’lláh counsels, “Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness.” Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice. Available at www.bahai.org/r/486554855 ; and all individuals must be given the opportunity to realize their inherent capabilities and thereby foster “the elevation, the advancement, the education, the protection and the regeneration of the peoples of the earth.”43Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Available at www.bahai.org/r/473374410

In the Bahá’í view, social origin, position, or rank are of no account in the sight of God. As Bahá’u’lláh confirms, “man’s glory lieth in his knowledge, his upright conduct, his praiseworthy character, his wisdom, and not in his nationality or rank.”44Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Available at www.bahai.org/r/327958234. It should be noted, however, that the Bahá’í teachings recognize the need for authority and rank for the purpose of ensuring functionality in the pursuit of community goals. In this regard, all decision-making authority in the Bahá’í administrative system rests not with individuals but elected corporate bodies. A distinction is thus made between the moral and spiritual equality of all human beings and the differentiation that may exist in how individuals serve society.  This emphatic declaration of the essential moral and spiritual worth of every human being is echoed in an epistle of Bahá’u’lláh’s to a devoted follower: “Verily, before the one true God, they who are the rulers and lords of men and they that are their subjects and vassals are equal and the same. The ranks of all men are dependent on their potential and capacity. Witness unto this truth are the words, ‘In truth, they are most honored before God who are most righteous.’”45 Bahá’u’lláh, provisional translation, courtesy of the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.  Hence, embedded in the Bahá’í understanding of human identity is a fundamental expectation of justice and equality of opportunity, as well as an imperative of striving for greater moral awareness and responsibility.

It must be stressed that the “watchword” of the Bahá’í community is “unity in diversity.”46Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/895919188  Oneness and diversity are complementary and inseparable: “That human consciousness necessarily operates through an infinite diversity of individual minds and motivations detracts in no way from its essential unity. Indeed, it is precisely an inherent diversity that distinguishes unity from homogeneity or uniformity.”47Bahá’í International Community, “The Prosperity of Humankind”, 1995. Available at www.bahai.org/r/406673721  Just as integration of the differentiated components of the human body makes possible the higher function of human consciousness, so too is global well-being dependent on the willing give and take, and ultimate collaboration, of humanity’s diverse populations.48The sociologist Emile Durkheim referred to such coordinated interaction among society’s diverse elements as “organic solidarity”—a solidarity governed by the “law of cooperation.” See Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth, pp. 142-3.  Acceptance of the concept of unity in diversity implies the development of a global consciousness, a sense of global citizenship, and a love for all of humanity. It induces every individual to realize that, “since the body of humankind is one and indivisible,” each member of the human race is “born into the world as a trust of the whole” and has a responsibility to the whole.49Bahá’í International Community, “The Prosperity of Humankind”, 1995. Available at www.bahai.org/r/616572370  It further suggests that if a peaceful international community is to emerge, then the complex and varied cultural expressions of humanity must be allowed to develop and flourish, as well as to interact with one another in ever-changing forms of civilization. “The diversity in the human family,” the Bahá’í writings emphasize, “should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord.”50‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks. Available at www.bahai.org/r/268841058  More than creating a culture of tolerance, the notion of unity in diversity entails vanquishing corrosive divisions along lines of race, class, gender, nationality, and belief, and erecting a dynamic and cooperative social ethos that reflects the oneness of human nature.

The ideology of difference so ubiquitous in contemporary discourse militates against the possibility of social progress. It provides no basis whereby communities defined by specific backgrounds, customs, or creeds can bridge their divergent perspectives and resolve social tensions. The value of variety and difference cannot be minimized, but neither can the necessity for coexistence, order, and mutual effort. “The supreme need of humanity,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá underscores, “is cooperation and reciprocity. The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity.”51‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Available at www.bahai.org/r/322101001 Diversity by itself cannot be regarded as an “ultimate good.”52 Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, p. 153. 

Unity, in contrast, “is a phenomenon of creative power.”53Cited in Century of Light. Available at www.bahai.org/r/202372160  To foster a global identity, to affirm that we are members of one human family is a deceptively simple but powerful idea. While traditional loyalties and identities must be appreciated and recognized, they are inadequate for addressing the predicament of modernity, and consequently, a higher loyalty, one that speaks to the common destiny of all the earth’s inhabitants, is necessary. And so, in our quest for solutions to the problems that collectively confront us, a first step must involve relinquishing our attachment to lesser loyalties. Yet, while Bahá’u’lláh is saying that at this moment in human social evolution a global identity is vital, an inherent aspect of such a universal identity is recognition of the spiritual reality that animates our inner selves. 54It should be noted that for one who does not arrive at a spiritual understanding of existence, Bahá’u’lláh urges that individual to “at least conduct himself with reason and justice.” Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts: Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 2002. Available at www.bahai.org/r/653038584  To be sure, a global identity grounded in awareness of our common humanness marks a great step forward from where humanity has been, but a strictly secular or material formulation of global identity is unlikely to provide a sufficient motivational basis for overcoming historic prejudices and engendering universal moral action. Establishing a global milieu of peace, prosperity, and fairness is ultimately a matter of the heart; it involves a change in basic attitudes and values that can only come from recognizing the normative and spiritual nature of the challenges before us. This is especially so given that the vast majority of the world’s peoples do not view themselves simply as material beings responding to material exigencies and circumstances, but rather as beings endowed with spiritual sensibility and purpose.

In light of ongoing social turmoil and the upheavals of the last century, it is simply no longer possible to maintain the belief that human well-being can arise from a narrow materialistic conception of life. The persistence of widespread human deprivation and despair speaks to the shortcomings of prevailing social theories and policies. Fresh approaches are required. A just social polity, Bahá’ís believe, will emerge only when human relations and social arrangements are infused with spiritual intent, an intent characterized by an all-embracing standard of equity, unconditional love, and an ethos of service to others. Addressing practical challenges through a spiritual lens is no easy task, but it is to this objective that Bahá’ís are firmly committed. Through recognition of the centrality of spiritual values and the deeds they inspire, “Minds, hearts and all human forces are reformed, perfections are quickened, sciences, discoveries and investigations are stimulated afresh, and everything appertaining to the virtues of the human world is revitalized.”55 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/008934837  The power of a spiritually-actuated identity in furthering human betterment cannot be overestimated, for those “whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God’s creative love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognize in every human face a sign of His reflected glory.”56Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/194578922

It is still regrettable that the identity of certain individuals or groups emerges from a shared experience of oppression—from being the victims of systematic discrimination or injustice. In addressing this dimension of human identity, Bahá’u’lláh speaks forcefully and repeatedly about the rights and dignity of all human beings, and the indispensability of creating mechanisms of social justice, but He also explains that spiritual oppression is the most serious of all: “What ‘oppression’ is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth…should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?”57Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán. Available at www.bahai.org/r/621220243 From this standpoint, it is in the displacement of a transcendent understanding of life by an ascendant materialism that we find the source of the disaffection, anomie, and uncertainty that so pervades modern existence. All forms of oppression ultimately find their genesis in the denial of our essential spiritual identity. As Bahá’u’lláh earnestly counsels us: “Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me.”58Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic No. 30. Available at www.bahai.org/r/172419670

These words tell us that we must choose who we wish to be; we must “see” with our “own eyes and not through the eyes of others.”59 Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic No. 2. Available at www.bahai.org/r/099947277  We must create our own sense of self and belonging. To have such power of choice affirms human nobility and is a sign of divine grace. Our different senses of identity consequently become fully realized through the development of our spiritual identity; they each provide a means for achieving our basic existential purpose—the recognition and refinement of the spiritual capacities latent within us. Through the tangible expression of such capacities—compassion, trustworthiness, humility, courage, forbearance, and willingness to sacrifice for the common good—we define a path of spiritual growth. In the end, though, whether we have attained our spiritual potential is enshrouded in mystery: “the inner being, the underlying reality or intrinsic identity, is still beyond the ken and perception of our human powers.”60‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/199999278

Connected with the idea of spiritual identity, then, is the inalienable sanctity of every human soul; that a unique destiny has been bestowed upon each of us by an all-loving Creator—a destiny which unfolds in accordance with the free exercise of our rational and moral powers. As Bahá’u’lláh indicates, “How lofty is the station which man, if he but choose to fulfill his high destiny, can attain!”61 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/397234171  This promise of new vistas of accomplishment for both the individual and society, is, for Bahá’ís, a source of enduring confidence and optimism. The forces now buffeting and recasting human life, Bahá’u’lláh attests, will serve to release the “potentialities inherent in the station of man,” thereby giving impetus to “an ever-advancing civilization.”62Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/494001842

The Bahá’í belief in the spiritual nature of reality, and its underlying unity, sheds new light on the question of religious identity. In stressing that “the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God,”63Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/407719266  Bahá’u’lláh is confirming a basic intuition that the truth underpinning the world’s great religions is in essence one. This explicit rejection of exclusivity and superiority, which have so dominated religious thinking and behavior, and suppressed impulses to reconciliation and unity, clears the ground for a new ethos of mutual understanding. For indeed, to believe that one’s system of belief is somehow superior or unique, has only led humankind to misery, despair, and ruin. In warning His followers never to assume what their own spiritual end might be, Bahá’u’lláh plants the seeds of humility and spiritual maturity so necessary for the creation of a world of tolerance and tranquility. In recognizing the divine origin of the world’s great religions, and that they have each served to unlock a wider range of capacities within human consciousness and society, the Bahá’í Faith does not and cannot make any claim of religious finality, but rather a claim of paramount relevance to humanity’s current spiritual and social plight. Its role as a reconciler and unifier of religions is clearly anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh: “A different Cause…hath appeared in this day and a different discourse is required.”64 Bahá’u’lláh, The Tabernacle of Unity (Bahá’í World Centre, 2006). Available at www.bahai.org/r/855801133

Bahá’u’lláh clarifies that a moral logic pervades the fabric of human life, and that it is through observance of spiritual principles that the individual can realize the divinely intended goal of his or her existence. As beings capable of spiritual and moral development, our autonomy and welfare are not only determined by the laws and constraints of the natural world, but also by an objective spiritual world that is integrally related to it. To follow a moral path is not only to carry out the duties that we have to those around us, but is the only means for realizing true happiness and contentment. Our obligations to God, our inner selves, our family, and the wider community give definition to who we are and what our aims should be. For Bahá’ís, fulfillment of these obligations to the Divine will and to our fellow human beings ensures the emergence of a stable and progressive society. Moreover, by honoring such responsibilities, the nobility and rights of others are protected. In this sense, it is the requirement of individuals’ being able to meet primary spiritual and moral obligations that safeguards human rights.65This is not to suggest that duties prevail over or precede rights, but that the recognition and exercise of such duties provide the very framework for actualizing human rights. There is a complementary relationship between rights and duties. That individuals have specific entitlements or needs, informs us of particular duties that attach to other individuals or the broader society.

The Bahá’í teachings explain that moral insight is both transcendentally and dialogically derived. The values and ideals that bind human beings together, and give tangible direction and meaning to life, find their origins in the guidance provided by the Founders of the world’s great religious systems. At the same time, it is human action in response to such guidance that gives real shape to social reality. Bahá’u’lláh makes clear that all such action must be consultatively-inspired and directed. Given that human life has a “fundamentally dialogical character,” it is through interchange that individuals and the communities they compose are able to give definition to their identities and their long-term goals.66Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, p. 33  Consultation can lead to the creation of new social meanings and social forms that reflect what is reasonable and fair for society to achieve. But any such process of collective deliberation and decision-making, the Bahá’í writings insist, must be devoid of adversarial posturing as well as dispassionate and fully participatory in spirit. It is through discourse which is inclusive and unifying that the religious impulse finds expression in the modern age.

Clearly, there can never be an absolutely objective or static understanding of what constitutes concepts such as social equity, human security, power, “the common good,” democracy, or community. There is an evolutionary aspect to social development—a dynamic process of learning, dialogue, and praxis in which social challenges and solutions are constantly redefined and reassessed. There are always multiple understandings of particular social questions and these diverse perspectives each typically contain some measure of validity. By building a broader framework of analysis that encompasses not only material and technical variables but the normative and spiritual dimensions of various social issues, new insights can emerge that enrich dialogues previously locked into narrow conceptual boundaries. A unifying sense of identity can obviously play an important role in facilitating and sustaining such a consultative path.

In many ways, the struggle to understand our identity is tied up with the question of meaning in modern life. Increasingly, calls are being made for rooting meaning and identity in community, but when the community is religiously, morally, and culturally pluralistic in character it is challenging for diverse voices to find common ground. It is here where the Bahá’í concepts of unity in diversity and non-adversarial dialogue and decision-making can offer a potent alternative vision of social advancement. Engaging in a cooperative search for truth will no doubt lead to the discovery and implementation of shared perspectives and values. Such open moral dialogue within and among variegated communities can lead to a process of action, reflection, and adjustment resulting in genuine social learning and progress.67The evolving international human rights discourse is one significant example of such cross-cultural moral exchange. As Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes, “No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.”68 Bahá’u’lláh, in Consultation: A Compilation (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 3. 

Meaning emerges from an independent search for truth and a chosen freedom grounded in social experience and social participation—a participation that leads to the enlargement of the self. Participation creates new identities and new solidarities. In Bahá’í communities around the globe, patterns of fellowship, knowledge-building, and collaboration among diverse peoples are giving rise to a new human culture. Bahá’ís have found that encouraging new modalities of association and participation is key to promoting meaningful social development and effective local governance that is democratic in spirit and method. Hence, Bahá’u’lláh’s statement that fellowship and sincere association “are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations.”69Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/787830813

Human beings are social beings. The self, therefore, cannot evolve outside of human relationships. Indeed, the self develops principally through endeavors that are participatory in nature. Virtues such as generosity, loyalty, mercy, and self-abnegation cannot be manifested in isolation from others. The Bahá’í teachings affirm that the essential arena of moral choice is the autonomous person. But this autonomy is exercised within a broader social context, as well as an all-encompassing spiritual reality that informs the nature of that social context. The Bahá’í teachings thus offer a social conception of human identity in which the inner aspirations of the self are aligned with the goals of a just and creative global polity. In this way, the Bahá’í community is able to reconcile “the right” with the “good.”70In the vocabulary of moral philosophy, “the good” refers to a vision of happiness, human well-being, or a specific way of life. Thus, many conceptions of “the good” are possible. “The right” refers to types of principled or just action—binding duties, codes and standards that regulate and guide how individuals pursue their particular notions of “the good.” Modern liberal thought, going back to Immanuel Kant, places emphasis on “the right” over “the good.” Communitarians have critiqued this view, arguing that it has led to the exaggerated individualism of Western society.

Individual well-being is intimately tied to the flourishing of the whole. It is a reciprocated benevolence, founded on the ideals of service and selflessness, rather than utilitarian self-interest, that underlies the Bahá’í idea of social life. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good.”71‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization. Available at www.bahai.org/r/006593911  While preservation of “personal freedom and initiative” is consid­ered essential, so too must the relational aspect of human existence be recognized. The “maintenance of civilized life,” the Universal House of Justice explains, “calls for the utmost degree of understanding and cooperation between society and the individual; and because of the need to foster a climate in which the untold potentialities of the individual members of society can develop, this relationship must allow ‘free scope’ for ‘individuality to assert itself’ through modes of spontaneity, initiative and diversity that ensure the viability of society.”72 Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.  Available at www.bahai.org/r/437022378

Given the social matrix of human reality, the quest for true self-determination and true identity involves finding one’s place within a moral order, not outside it. But in the Bahá’í view, such “ordered liberty” concerns the awakening of the soul to the capacities of integrity, kindness, and sincerity that lie within it. And spiritual growth of this kind must be fostered by the community in which the individual is embedded. Any conception of “the good”—an equitable society promoting the development of individual potential—must recognize the necessity of imbuing the concept of duty into society’s members. In this respect, laws and ethical standards are intended not to constrain but to liberate human consciousness so that a moral ethos can come into being. To a great degree, then, the emergence of the citizen devoted to a moral praxis results from the collective voice of the community. Although a path of social virtue and service must be freely chosen, the community must strive to cultivate and empower this voice.73 For more on this point, see Amitai Etzioni, The Monochrome Society (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 221-45.  The ultimate expression of this spiritually motivated moral voice is a culture where action flows not from externally imposed duties and rights but from the spontaneous love that each member of the community has for one another. From our shared recognition that we are all sheltered under the love of the same God comes both humility and the means for true social cohesion.

This spiritually-based conception of social life goes beyond notions of mutual advantage and prudence associated with the idea of the social contract. While the principle of self-interested, rational exchange implied by the social contract indisputably represents an advance over coercion as a basis for social existence, there surely exists a step beyond exchange. As the philosopher Martha Nussbaum states, the pursuit of “individual ends” must “include shared ends.”74Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, Mass.:  Belknap and Harvard University Press, 2006), pp. 9-95.  Social cooperation, as manifested through a “global society of peoples,” she argues, cannot be based on seeking mutual advantage, but can only result from recognizing that “a central part of our good is to live in a world that is morally decent, a world in which all human beings have what they need to live a life with dignity.”75Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, Mass.:  Belknap and Harvard University Press, 2006), pp. 9-95.  Yet, Nussbaum’s thoughtful critique of current social forms falls short in outlining a pathway for mediating among divergent identities and value systems so that unity on a global scale becomes a realistic possibility. For without a genuine, transcending love emanating from the heart of human consciousness and motivation, it is unlikely that contending peoples and cultures can come together to form a harmonious and interdependent whole. Under the pluralism of the social contract, however enlightened that pluralism may be, disunity reigns.76To acknowledge the limitations of pluralism, however, is not to deny the centrality of individual and group autonomy, civil rights, and democratic values to human well-being. What is being critiqued here is a pluralism that is unable to foster a definite vision of the common good.

Bahá’u’lláh instead offers a covenant of universal fellowship, a spiritually-empowered ethic of deep and abiding commitment, as the basis for collective life. As a result of this covenant of oneness, in the deprivation and suffering of others we see ourselves. Such a frame of reference opens the door to critical reflection and real social transformation. In the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life.”77‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Available at www.bahai.org/r/015747998

The Bahá’í concept of an inhering human diversity leading to higher forms of unity suggests that we can and must move beyond a liberal construction of pluralism that is unable to provide an overarching vision of human development. But rather than engaging in a quixotic quest to overcome the innumerable evils at work in society or right the “countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age,” Bahá’ís are devoting their energy to building the world anew.78Universal House of Justice, May 24, 2001. Available at www.bahai.org/r/413655933 As we have seen, recognizing the essential spiritual character of our identity is a defining feature of this project. Further, at this moment in our collective evolution, the appropriate locus for action is the globe in its entirety, where all members of the human family are joined together in a common enterprise of promoting justice and social integration. Here, it should be noted that the Bahá’í teachings envision social and political development unfolding in two directions: upward beyond the nation-state and downward to the grassroots of society. Both are vital and interlinked. In this regard, the Bahá’í community offers its own unique system of governance as a model for study.79Bahá’ís attach great importance to cooperative decision-making and assign organizational responsibility for community affairs to freely elected governing councils at the local, national, and international levels. Bahá’u’lláh designated these governing councils “Houses of Justice.” This administrative system devolves decision-making to the lowest practicable level—thereby instituting a unique vehicle for grassroots participation in governance—while at the same time providing a level of coordination and authority that makes possible collaboration and unity on a global scale. A unique feature of the Bahá’í electoral process is the maximum freedom of choice given to the electorate through the prohibition of nominations, candidature and solicitation. Election to Bahá’í  administrative bodies is based not on personal ambition but rather on recognized ability, mature experience, and a commitment to service. Because the Bahá’í system does not allow the imposition of the arbitrary will or leadership of individuals, it cannot be used as a pathway to power. Decision-making authority rests only with the elected bodies themselves. All members of the Bahá’í community, no matter what position they may temporarily occupy in the administrative structure, are expected to regard themselves as involved in a learning process, as they strive to understand and implement the laws and principles of their Faith. Significantly, in many parts of the world, the first exercises in democratic activity have occurred within the Bahá’í  community. Bahá’ís believe that this consultatively-based administrative system offers a useful example of the institutional structures necessary for global community life. For more on the underlying principles of the Bahá’í Administrative Order see Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/922842353.  

Bahá’u’lláh provides us with a potent new moral grammar that allows us to appreciate and nurture human diversity while expanding our horizons beyond the parochial to a solidarity encompassing the boundaries of the planet itself. By extending human identity outward to embrace the totality of human experience, Bahá’u’lláh offers a vision of a comprehensive good that recognizes and values the particular while promoting an integrating framework of global learning and cooperation. His summons to unity articulates an entirely new ethics and way of life—one that flows from a spiritual understanding of human history, purpose, and development. He also gives us new tools that allow us to negotiate amongour diverse perceptions and construct unified modes of living without resorting to adversarial means and the culture of protest that heretofore have characterized even the most advanced democratic polities. He exhorts us to “flee” from “dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy…”80 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah. Available at www.bahai.org/r/852608044

By redefining human identity, the Bahá’í teachings anticipate the moral reconstruction of all human practices—a process that involves the remaking of individual behavior and the reformulation of institutional structures. It entails the internalization of spiritual concepts so that the theory, assessment, and reformation of social affairs reflect the ideals of altruism, moderation, reciprocity, and justice. When society draws upon the spiritual mainspring of human identity and purpose, truly constructive avenues of social change can be pursued. “Among the results of the manifestation of spiritual forces,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá confirms “will be that the human world will adapt itself to a new social form…and human equality will be universally established.”81‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/841208804

In our very longing for a world free from violence and injustice, lie the seeds of hope. But such hope can only be sustained by the certitude conferred by faith. As the Universal House of Justice assures us: “The turmoil and crises of our time underlie a momentous transition in human affairs…That our Earth has contracted into a neighbourhood, no one can seriously deny. The world is being made new. Death pangs are yielding to birth pangs. The pain shall pass when members of the human race act upon the common recognition of their essential oneness. There is a light at the end of this tunnel of change beckoning humanity to the goal destined for it according to the testimonies recorded in all the Holy Books.”82Universal House of Justice, On the Occasion of the Official Opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb, May 22, 2001. Available at https://news.bahai.org/story/119/

By Farzam Arbab

A very striking feature of our times is the accelerating rate at which change occurs. The magnitude and speed of the changes that humankind has undergone in the past century and a half have been unparalleled in our history. In every area of human endeavour a great deal of new knowledge is being generated, and old practices are being rejected one after another. At this point in history, no one can possibly deny that society, in all its aspects – social, economic, political, religious and cultural – is going through a process of fundamental transformation.

In this past century and a half, every country and region of the world has seen old structures swept away through radical reform or revolution. The ideals motivating these deliberate, sometimes violent, attempts to change society have often been extremely noble and laudable.

Yet, it is now an historical fact that these attempts have, by and large, failed to generate this sense of purpose, the values and the standards of behaviour that are essential for the creation of a new society. As a result, for decades humanity has been living in a state of crisis that seems to deepen almost daily. In the midst of all this crisis, of course, we often hear the voices of traditionalists, of those who romanticize the past and urge us to go back to our old ways. The fact is, however, that return to the standards of the past is not possible, for the forces released during this period have set in motion a process of transformation that is clearly irreversible. The unavoidable conclusion we reach when we examine modern history is that old moral codes and belief systems have proven entirely inadequate when faced with the challenges of an age of transformation. So, as we explore elements of the framework for a new process of moral education, some of the first questions we must ask ourselves are: What is the nature of the great transformation that is taking place in human society? What are the basic concepts that can help us to understand the significance of the times in which we live? What are some of the great forces that are operating within society in this crucial stage of human evolution?

Clearly, this is not the occasion to examine in detail a theory of history, but I would like to present a few ideas that will help our explorations in the next few days.

During the cycle of human life, an individual passes through the stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence, before undergoing the transition to adulthood. We achieve great clarity about the meaning of our times if we accept that humanity, in its collective life, also goes through similar stages, and that we live at a time when mankind has emerged from its childhood and stands at the threshold of maturity. The turbulence and the upheavals that prevail in society today can then be seen as characteristic of adolescence, which is the period of transition. The onset of maturity, of course, brings new capacities and presents new demands, for which the attitudes, thoughts and habits of childhood are inadequate. The challenge now facing humanity is to leave behind the ways of youth and to develop those qualities and capabilities that will allow it to respond to the requirements of a new age.

As for the forces that have to be reckoned with at this historical moment, let me suggest that they are associated with two parallel processes. One process is essentially destructive, while the other is integrative. The operation of the destructive process is evident in such phenomena as the upsurge of racial animosity and nationalism, the spread of terrorism and violence, the breakdown of families and the corrosion of human relations, the increasing signs of suspicion and fear, and the unquenchable thirst for vanities and misdirected pleasures. Although negative and often devastating, the forces that accompany this destructive process tend to tear down barriers that block mankind’s progress towards maturity. In relation to this point, let me share with you a favourite passage of mine:

If long-cherished ideals and time-honoured institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines. Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution? For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine.1Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/333528334

The destructive process described above, of course, is quite visible and its effects are seen everywhere, every day. To see clearly the other parallel process, which is constructive in character, does not prove to be as easy. But if we analyze the events of the past century with a mind that is free from the very social, political and economic theories which, in themselves, are destructive, we will become thoroughly convinced of the operation of a vast and powerful process of integration. Earlier stages of this process have successively called into being the family unit, the tribe, the city-state and the nation. The distinguishing feature of the present period of history is that the integrative process will now bear its finest fruit: the unification of the entire human race in a world civilization.

This world civilization is not to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s hearts. It will not abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It will not attempt to suppress the diversity of ethnic origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It will call for a wider loyalty and the subordination of national interests to the claims of a unified world. It will oppose both excessive centralization and all attempts at uniformity. Its most cherished concept will be unity in diversity. To continue with the quotation I read earlier, this principle of the oneness of mankind

is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced.2Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Available at www.bahai.org/r/264008982

With these ideas in mind, let me express now what we may consider as the first basic concept of the framework of moral education that we are going to explore during the next two days. A new process of moral education must be developed within the context of mankind’s passage to maturity and for the emergence of a world civilization that embodies the principle of unity in diversity. The individuals educated by this process will need to develop a clear vision of the requirements of the age of maturity and learn to contribute to the transformation of present-day society. They will have to aim constantly to express more fully the virtues inherent in mankind, and weed out faults, harmful habits and tendencies inherited from their environment. Yet they will have to be conscious of the unique characteristics and contributions of their own nation and people and dedicate themselves to the enrichment and advancement of their own culture. Above all, they will have to lend their strength to processes that counteract the negative forces undermining the foundations of human existence and align themselves with the forces leading mankind to the fulfilment of its destiny.

A second concept, which is basic to a framework for moral education, is that, in order to act effectively during the age of transition, the moral person we are envisioning here must possess a strong sense of purpose. Goodness, defined in passive terms – to mind one’s own business and not to harm anyone, a definition that throughout history has only facilitated oppression – simply is not adequate for our times. But neither is it sufficient to say that a moral person has to be purposeful. The nature of this purposefulness will have to be explored carefully in the process of moral education.

To begin with, I would like to suggest that the moral purpose of an active individual must necessarily be twofold, directed simultaneously towards the development of one’s vast potentialities, including both those virtues and qualities that distinguish the human race and those talents and characteristics that are an individual’s unique endowment. On a social level, it is expressed through dedication to promoting the welfare of the entire human race.

These aspects of the sense of twofold purpose are fundamentally inseparable, for a person’s standards and behaviour shape the environment, and in turn are moulded by social structures and processes. To quote another passage:

We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.3Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, To an individual believer, 17 February 1933

It is essential, then, that we should develop a profound awareness of the reciprocal relationship between personal growth and organic change in social structures. We cannot develop virtues and talents in isolation, but only through effort and activity for the benefit of others. Idle worship and prolonged withdrawal from society, advocated by some philosophies of the past, neither promote individual development nor aid the progress of mankind. People whose sense of purpose focuses only on the development of their own potential soon lose objectivity and perspective. With no outside interactions and social goals, how does one judge one’s own progress and measure one’s development? Morality centered on the self only leads to subtle forms of ego – combinations of guilt, self-righteousness and self-satisfaction.

Conversely, a sense of purpose driven only by the desire to transform society, with no attention to the need for personal growth and transformation, is easily misdirected. The person who blames society for every wrong and ignores the importance of individual responsibility loses respect and compassion for others and is prone to acts of cruelty and oppression. Recent developments in many countries of the world are showing us what a fragile endeavour social transformation can be when divorced from the desire to transform one’s own character.

Now, accepting that a new process of moral education must transcend the limitations of unfettered individualism and of suffocating collectivism, and must direct the energies of the individual toward a complementary and balanced approach to the twofold purpose of personal and collective transformation, we come to the question of how to direct moral purpose and protect it from the distorting influence of the negative forces that abound in this age of transition. For example, we all know how easy it is to veil group or personal interest in the guise of morality. Experience has also taught us that mere idealism and indignation at the sight of suffering are not sufficient bases for moral action. The sense of purpose that is to be developed through a process of moral education, then, must be shaped by forces and convictions that influence moral orientation and protect it from distortion and misdirection.

The basic forces that need to shape an individual’s sense of purpose are attraction to beauty and thirst for knowledge. Attraction to beauty gives proper direction to purpose. Beauty and perfection become standards and guiding lights by which one is able to judge one’s own behaviour. On one level, this attraction manifests itself in love for the majesty and diversity of nature, in the impulse to fashion beauty through the visual arts, music and crafts, and in the pleasures of beholding the fruits of these creative endeavours. It is also evident in one’s response to the beauty of an idea, the elegance of a scientific theory, and the perfection of a good character in one’s fellow human beings.

On another level, attraction to beauty underlies an individual’s search for order and meaning in the universe, which extends itself to a desire for order in social relations.

Our inherent desire for knowledge, on the other hand, impels us toward an understanding of the mysteries of the universe and its infinitely diverse phenomena, both on the visible and on the invisible plane. It also directs us toward an understanding of the mysteries within ourselves. When we are oriented by a vision of beauty and perfection, and motivated by a thirst for knowledge, we become, in our approach to life, investigators of reality and seekers after truth.

Now, if investigation of truth is to guide our twofold purpose it must necessarily be based on an accurate understanding of human nature. It would certainly not be an exaggeration to say that much of the crisis and confusion of our times is caused by mistaken conceptions of human nature that we have inherited from mankind’s age of childhood. The absurd concept of original sin, the equally absurd concept that man is perfect and just one step from being God, the concept of man as merely a more highly developed animal, the concept of man as a free agent who should follow the dictates of every basic desire, the concept of man as a piece of the machinery of State: these are all fruits of the imagination of the philosophers and thinkers of the age of childhood and are based on insufficient historical and spiritual evidence. What is certain and easily observable is that human nature has two aspects, the material and the spiritual. Man’s material nature is the product of physical evolution, and its basic objective is survival. Although necessary to his existence in this world, if allowed to dominate his consciousness, it leads him to express injustice, cruelty, and egotism. Man’s spiritual nature, on the other hand, is characterized by qualities such as love, mercy, kindness, generosity, and justice. The individual attains his true station by strengthening his spiritual nature so that it dominates his existence.

Up to now, we have said that attraction to beauty and thirst for knowledge are basic forces that should shape moral purpose. We have also suggested that if properly guided by these forces, our approach to life becomes that of investigators of truth, rather than imitators of others, but that this investigation of truth must be carried out with the correct understanding of human nature. When this is done, one of the first fruits that we harvest from our investigation is the conviction that man has been created noble. When we are truly convinced of this, our powers to transform our own character and contribute to the transformation of society are multiplied. And, what is extremely important, in pursuing our purpose, we avoid unworthy means of achieving goals and overcoming problems, and choose methods and approaches that are consistent with this innate condition of nobility. We do not fall prey to that most harmful concept that the ends justify the means, an idea that has been the cause of immense suffering.

Another fruit of our investigation of truth is a growing consciousness of the organic unity of the human race. Being convinced of the oneness of mankind enables us to recognize that we are each part of an organic whole, and that injury to any part results in injury to all. We remember that our accomplishments are built on the sacrifices and achievements of those who came before us and are supported by the efforts of our fellow human beings. We become convinced that our own fulfillment lies in helping to bring about welfare and happiness of others. We then strive to transcend the conflicts that have characterized relations between individuals and groups in every society throughout history. Our determination to eliminate injustice from society and to oppose cruelty and prejudice will not be shaped by anger and hatred. Our actions will be infused with the feelings of love, harmony, and kindness that only belief in the unity of mankind can create.

Yet another fruit of unfettered investigation of reality, one which is indispensable for moral integrity, is a vision of human existence that extends beyond the exigencies of day-to-day life. Such a vision enables us to distinguish between superficial and lasting results, and directs our purpose towards that which has permanence. An understanding of the eternal realities of existence helps define the nature of true happiness; we realize that “the happiness and greatness, the rank and station, the pleasure and peace, of an individual have never consisted in his personal wealth, but rather in his excellent character, his high resolve, the breadth of his learning, and his ability to solve difficult problems.”

In trying to understand the nature of this twofold sense of moral purpose, there is at least one more question that I would like to bring to our attention. How does a purpose that is shaped and directed by forces and convictions such as the ones mentioned above express itself? I would like to suggest that the only legitimate channel for the expression of such a purpose is service to others – not ruling over others, not manipulating the lives of others, but serving others. In a process of moral education, then, it is important to develop an understanding that the perfection of one’s own character should naturally find expression in efforts to serve others, and that one’s desire to serve others should enhance the refinement of one’s character. In this way, the motivation to help carry forward an ever-advancing civilization is not imposed from the outside; it rises from within the individual and is bound inextricably with opportunities for personal growth. Helping others and helping oneself become two aspects of one process; service unites the fulfilment of individual potential with the advancement of society and ensures the integrity of one’s sense of moral purpose.

In addition to issues concerning the historical context of a new process of moral education, and to questions having to do with the definition of moral purpose and the forces that shape it, our search for the framework for our educational activities must also reexamine relationships between man and nature, among individuals and groups, within the family, and between the individual and social institutions. Observations of the conditions of the world around us can leave no doubt that the way we look at and understand these old conceptions of these relationships, have shattered some, and have rendered others meaningless. Ironically, many of these distortions seem to be the results of material progress, which in itself is desirable. The problem is that material civilization should advance together with spiritual civilization. The past few centuries have seen the advancement of material civilization and the decline of spiritual civilization. The confusion and crisis that exist in essential human relationships today are merely the symptoms of the spiritual bankruptcy of modern society.

While there is no need at this general level of exploration to discuss in detail the changes that should occur in the conception of essential human relationships, a few examples may be useful. The growing environmental crisis proves beyond any doubt that man cannot continue to act as a predator in relation to the natural environment. We must become rational users and conservers of the resources of the planet. We must understand that nature exists in a dynamic balance and that interconnectedness, reciprocity, and cooperation are laws that govern the universe. We must come to a comprehension of the fact that, within this endless web of relationships, diversity is most essential, and we must learn to appreciate the beauty of diversity. Man’s attitude towards life should cease to be one of exploitation, whether of people or of nature. Our relationship with nature cannot be shaped by greed, whether this greed is individual or the trait of an entire people or nation. Man needs to abandon the attitude of arrogance that in these decades of rapid industrialization has characterized the interactions of society with nature, and approach progress with much more humility and care. Seen in this light, there can be no doubt that profound change in the relationship between man and nature is fundamentally a moral matter, and that the issues surrounding it must be examined within the framework of a new process of moral education.

Another profound change that has to occur as humanity passes from childhood to maturity is in the relationship among individuals and groups. Societies in every part of the world are pervaded by relations of dominance: dominance of one individual over another, of one race over another, of one nation over another, or of one sex over another. These relations of dominance are, of course, highly violent in nature, whether this violence is shown in physical ways or is clothed in the robes of legality and custom. The violence inherent in dominance makes these relations harmful to both the perpetrator and the victim. In a sense, both the subject and the object of such relations are victims of violence.

One relation of dominance that is not limited to any class, race or nation, is that which exists between men and women. Most people do not escape the effects of this relation for they are initiated into it from infancy. The growing child, living in an atmosphere of prejudice against women in the family itself, learns the habits of domination and carries these habits into education, the workplace, political and economic activities, and eventually into all social structures.

A conception of individual and group relationships that belongs to the age of maturity of humanity, then, must reject dominance. A process of moral education that is to help humanity reach adulthood should foster in every individual the desire to seek fulfilment – not by seeking power over others, but by serving them. Satisfaction needs to come from seeing everyone’s potentials and talents blossom and develop, and not from the imposition of one’s personal tastes and desires on others.

Yet another profound change needs to occur in the family structures of every society in the world. One of the most devastating effects of the forces of disintegration in our times has been the weakening of family bonds. The family is a fundamental institution of human civilization. It is the first environment within which every child begins to build moral structures and form patterns of behavior. But here again, the need is for a new conception of family relationships that responds to the demands and dictates of the age of maturity. It is not desirable, for example, to perpetuate a model of the family in which man dominates woman. Conceptions that place family loyalty above everything else, and thus impede the development of loyalty to the entire human race, cannot be accepted either. Strong and healthy family bonds are needed to make the family a vital unit of society. As a building block of society, the family needs to be educated according to the rules of sanctity, so that it becomes the first environment where nobility, integrity, respect, generosity, love, unity and justice are learned by every human being.

Finally, the relationships between the individual and social institutions must be conceptualized in a totally different way than has been customary throughout the childhood of humanity. Traditionally, individuals and institutions have lived in an unhealthy state of tension, the individual always trying to achieve greater and greater freedom, and the institutions trying to achieve greater degrees of control, always, of course, in the name of the common good. This tension must now be replaced by reciprocity and the desire to serve. The institutions of a new age cannot be built as instruments of the selfish desires of a group of people or as mechanisms for the control of the population. The mission of every institution should be conceived, somehow, as that of a channel through which the talents, abilities and collective energies of the people can be expressed in service to society.

This profound change in the mission of social institutions implies, of course, a corresponding change in the attitudes of individuals towards society and its institutions. Of special importance is a true understanding of the concept of freedom. Desire for freedom is undoubtedly one of the most powerful forces operating within individuals and within societies, and surely, the passage from childhood to maturity means the building of a society that embodies the principle of freedom. But freedom cannot be simply dealt with through slogans and empty promises. What is the nature of true freedom? What should we be free of? What are the chains that tie us down and take away our freedom? What are the sources of those forces that enslave us? What are the sources of those forces that can move us towards lasting freedom?

Once again, it becomes clear that many of the fundamental questions that we face in organizing the institutions of a new society, whether these institutions and structures are political, economic, social, or cultural, are basically moral questions. This brings us back to the fact that the moral purpose we defined at the beginning must indeed be twofold. The framework we are seeking for our moral education is a framework for the parallel transformation of the individual character and of social structures.

By Wendy M. Heller and Hoda Mahmoudi

Human history abounds with examples of oppression and injustice inflicted by one group on another. Over the centuries, ideologically sanctioned patterns of prejudice, distrust, and suspicion have given rise to norms of exclusiveness, aggression, and violence toward those outside one’s own social group. Ironically, religion, which has the potential to transcend other group affiliations in uniting people into a community, has itself been the cause of some of the most bitter, violent, and seemingly unsolvable conflicts between peoples. Yet, even while religion has often been used to justify prejudice and hostility against other groups, religious scriptures have furnished inspiring appeals to altruism and enduring exhortations to embrace the “other”.

Despite the pattern of group divisiveness, human history also contains examples of acts that defy this pattern: individuals who risk their lives to save others, who refuse to collaborate in acts of oppression even though in doing so they set themselves apart and risk ostracism or even death. Yet, in spite of the high cultural regard for valiant individual examples of moral heroism, societies have generally been slow to promote altruistic behavior as a model to be emulated; they have not deliberately encouraged the development of “altruistic personalities” able to transcend self-interest and group affiliation. However, it is precisely in those examples of altruistic acts that a glimmer of hope can be discerned for a solution to the monumental dysfunction that plagues human societies today, as well as solid evidence that human nature is not innately and incorrigibly aggressive and egocentric—that human beings are genuinely capable of selflessness and extensive behavior toward all people, regardless of the group to which they belong. This article will examine some of the ways in which the Bahá’í Faith combines the unifying function of religion with altruism in its aspiration to develop an altruistically oriented global society.

Located in over two hundred countries, the Bahá’í Faith has recently been identified as the second most widely distributed religion (geographically) after Christianity.1Barret, D.B., “World Religious Statistics.” Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988), p. 303. Although the Bahá’í Faith originated in nineteenth-century Írán, the vast majority of its multiracial and multicultural membership is now located in other countries, especially in the Third World, with the largest national community being in India. The Bahá’í religion has no clergy; its community administration is conducted by elected councils of nine members at the local, national, and international levels. The Bahá’í teachings are contained in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi. Bahá’ís accept these works as authoritative texts and the definitive model for belief and behavior, as well as the blueprint for social transformation and for the global social order that is the religion’s ultimate goal.2Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1985).

Bahá’ís aim to transform civilization by transforming themselves and their own social institutions on the basis of principles contained in the Bahá’í scriptures. Both altruism and extensivity—a pattern of personal commitment and responsibility that embraces diverse groups of people3Oliner, Samuel P., and Pearl . Oliner, “Promoting Extensive Altruistic Bonds: A Conceptual elaboration and Some Pragmatic Implications.” In Embracing the Other: Philosophical, Psychological, and Historial Perspective on Altruism. Ed. Pearl M. Oliner, et al (New York: New York University Press, 1992). —are fundamental components of Bahá’í belief and practice, a factor that has important implications for the global society Bahá’ís are attempting to construct.

The social change envisioned by Bahá’ís involves interrelated and interactive processes of individual and structural transformation. Individual transformation embodies more than a profession of belief; it is viewed as a process of acquiring distinctive personal characteristics and demonstrating them in social interactions as well as in working, together with other Bahá’ís, to develop the emerging Bahá’í social institutions.

In the Bahá’í view, spiritual life is not separated from the realm of social relations but integrated with it. The Bahá’í teachings shift the primary focus of religious practice from individual salvation or enlightenment to the collective progress of humanity as a whole.4Arbab, Farzam, “The Process of Social Transformation.” In The Bahá’í Faith and Marxism: Proceedings of a Conference Held January 1986 (Ottawa: Association for Bahá’í Studies, 1987), p. 10.

Those teachings address social conditions and global problems as directly related to the individual’s spiritual life: issues of world peace, the equality of men and women, harmony between science and religion, the equitable distribution of wealth and resources, and the elimination of prejudice are, for Bahá’ís, inseparable from religious belief and practice.

Such an emphasis on collective progress has important implications for the relationship of individual entities—whether individual persons, nations, or other groups—to the larger society of which they form a part. As Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1936, that relationship is essentially based on the principle of the subordination of “every particularistic interest, be it personal, regional, or national, to the paramount interests of humanity….”5Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1974), p. 198.

This principle, in turn, is based on the idea that, in a world of inter-dependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected.

Yet, the interests of humanity as a whole are not conceptualized in terms of a vague abstraction that could be appropriated by a particular dominant group and interpreted as identical with its own interests, but rather as a complex dynamic relationship between the parts and the whole, in which the viability of the whole is served by ensuring the well-being of all its individual parts, an enterprise for which all share responsibility.

This conception is demonstrated at its most basic in the relationship of the individual person and society. Although that relationship is, as Shoghi Effendi has stated, “essentially based on the principle of the subordination of the individual will to that of society,” a complex balance is sought between individual freedom and responsibility, in which the individual is neither suppressed nor excessively exalted. Cooperation between society and the individual is stressed, as is the fostering of “a climate in which the untold potentialities of the individual members of society can develop….”6Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: A Statement by the Universal House of Justice (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1989), p. 20.

Such a relationship, as it is envisioned, “must allow ‘free scope’ for ‘individuality to assert itself’ through modes of spontaneity, initiative and diversity that ensure the viability of society.” Thus, even while the will of the individual is subordinated to that of society, “the individual is not lost in the mass but becomes the focus of primary development….”7Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: A Statement by the Universal House of Justice (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1989), pp. 20-21. The fulfillment of individual potential is to be sought not in pursuing self-centered desires but in contributing to the well-being of others, and “the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good.”8‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1975), p. 2.

As Farzam Arbab has noted, this shift of emphasis to the progress of humanity is also reflected in the importance given to specific qualities that Bahá’ís are enjoined to acquire, qualities that promote prosocial behavior and lead to unity: for example, justice is stressed more than charity, and the acquisition of attitudes conducive to human solidarity is valued over simple tolerance. Even the qualities of love and of detachment from the material world are conceived of as active and social rather than passive and inwardly directed:

…the social dimension is also enhanced through the expansion of the meaning of most qualities to include a social vision. Love includes the abolition of social prejudices and the realization of the beauty of diversity in the human race. Detachment from the world is not taught in a way that leads to idleness and to the acceptance of oppression: it is acquired to free us from our own material interests in order to dedicate ourselves to the well-being of others. To this expansion of the meaning of almost all qualities is also added a constant endeavor to acquire social skills, to participate in meetings of consultation, to work in groups … to reach and carry out collective decisions.9Arbab, “Process,” p. 11.

Thus, he concludes, the Bahá’í path of sipiritualization “should not be confused with one that defines goodness passively and produces a human being whose greatest virtue is not to harm anyone; it is a path to create social activists and agents of change.”10Arbab, “Process,” p. 11.

Altruism is a major component of that desired social change and figures prominently in the Bahá’í texts. Many scriptural exhortations delineate altruistic norms explicitly, holding in high regard those who “nurture altruistic aims and plans for the well-being of their fellow men…11‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978), p. 72. and urging individuals to “be ready to lay down your lives one for the other, and not only for those who are dear to you, but for all humanity.12‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks: Addresses given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris in 1911 (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969), p. 170.

Other teachings reflect values and attitudes that, as Oliner and Oliner report in The Altruistic Personality, are conducive to an altruistic orientation. These include a sense of unity with and responsibility toward others beyond one’s own social group, a strong family orientation, emphasis on relationship rather than on status, generosity, trustworthiness, appreciation of diversity, as well as ethical values of justice and caring.

Unity and interdependence, and their link to helping behavior, are prominent themes in the Bahá’í texts, often expressed through organic metaphors, as in this passage from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh:

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony…. So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.13Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writing of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 288.

Explaining this metaphorical reference, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes that because all humans are interconnected and mutually dependent, they must “powerfully sustain one another” by caring for each other:

Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines.14Selections, pp.1-2.

The theme of inclusiveness is emphasized in every aspect of Bahá’í individual and community life, beginning with the fundamental teachings of the oneness of humanity and the unity of religion. The Bahá’í teachings view divine revelation not as a static, unique event, but as a continuing process that is the central feature of human history. The spirit that inspired all the founders of the great religions of the past, the Manifestations of God, is recognized as one and the same. Their original teachings contain the same basic, unchanging spiritual and ethical precepts, prominent among which are the teachings that promote altruism. The tenets that change from one religious dispensation to another are the social laws and practices, which apply those precepts in specific forms. Thus, religious truth is understood to be relative, progressive, and developmental.

Such a perspective implies more than tolerance for the equality of individual religions as separate entities to be respected in a pluralistic society. It redefines the nature of their relationship to one another and thus sets new terms for a definition of identity based on connection rather than separation. Unlike religious groups who define themselves by their distinction from other groups based on the claim that their founder was the sole or the final source of truth or that their practices are the only correct form of worship, the Bahá’í religious tradition accepts all the great spiritual teachers as equals. Bahá’ís are expected to revere Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, and Muḥammad, as well as Bahá’u’lláh, recognizing in them all the same spirit of the mediator between God and humanity. Thus, although the body of teachings composing the Bahá’í religion itself cannot accurately be called eclectic, the Bahá’í religious tradition includes all of the previous dispensations, which are viewed as “different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which it [the Bahá’í Faith] itself forms but an integral part.”15World Order, p. 114.

From the Bahá’í perspective, the principle of the unity of religion and progressive revelation restores the unific role of religion in society, providing a basis for resolving long-standing, apparently unbridgeable divisions among religious communities as well as a resolution of the dilemma posed by the existence of numerous religions, each claiming divine origin. For Bahá’ís, the principle removes any pretext for disunity deriving from religious affiliation; in fact, all religious conflict is forbidden. The Bahá’í writings direct Bahá’ís to “love… all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds…”;16Selections, p.69. to exert their efforts so that “the tumult of religious dissension and strife that agitateth the peoples of the earth may be stilled, that every trace of it may be completely obliterated.17Gleanings, p. 288. “That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief,” Bahá’u’lláh writes, “should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion.”18Gleanings, p. 287. Affirming the preeminence of the principle of religious inclusiveness and unity, the Bahá’í writings go so far as to state that if religion becomes the cause of division and disunity, it is better to have no religion at all.19‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1975) p. 117.

Closely linked to the principle of the unity of religion is the distinguishing feature of the Bahá’í dispensation: the principle of the oneness and wholeness of humanity. The full equality of all members of the human species and their close relationship to one another requires that Bahá’ís regard people from all racial, religious, ethnic, class, and national backgrounds as members of one global family. Rather than offering mere “symbols of internationalism” in the hope that these might, as Allport suggested, “provide mental anchorage points around which the idea of world-loyalty may develop,”20Allport, Gordon W., The Nature of Prejudice (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1954), p. 44. the Bahá’í religion begins with the underlying principle of world loyalty and human unity, which is itself the anchorage point, “the pivot,” according to Shoghi Effendi, “round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve….”21World Order, p.42.

The extension of the individual’s personal commitments and relationships to include the diverse groups composing humanity is repeatedly urged in Bahá’í texts in the strongest terms possible—that is, as no less than a divine commandment:

In every dispensation, there hath been the commandment of fellowship and love, but it was a commandment limited to the community of those in mutual agreement, not to the dissident foe. In this wondrous age, however, praised be God, the commandments of god are not delimited, not restricted to any one group of people; rather have all the friends been commanded to show forth fellowship and love, consideration and generosity and loving-kindness to every community on earth.22Selections, pp. 20-21.

Far from being an abstract principle removed from the real social conditions, the unity of humankind must be lived in practice, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a gathering in Europe in 1912:

Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone…

When you meet a [stranger]… speak to him as to a friend; if he seems to be lonely try to help him, give him of your willing service; if he be sad console him, if poor succor him, if oppressed rescue him… what profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless.23Paris Talks, p. 16.

Although the Bahá’í writings speak of the absolute equality of all, the intent is not sameness or conformity to a dominant culture, nation, race, class, or any other group. In theory and in practice, cultural and racial diversity is valued in the Bahá’í community. Along with the expression of the ideal, a conscious awareness exists that effort is necessary to break down age-old barriers of prejudice and separation. The cultivation of friendships with people of different backgrounds is repeatedly encouraged, but perhaps the most notable evidence of the Bahá’í commitment to interracial unity is the attitude toward interracial marriage, which is actively welcomed and encouraged in the Bahá’í writings.

In consonance with the prosocial orientation of the Bahá’í teachings, the ideal Bahá’í personality, as implied in the Bahá’í scriptures, is other centered, extensive, and altruistic. In one passage, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá makes altruism itself the touchstone for a new definition of true human nature:

…man should be willing to accept hardships for himself in order that others may enjoy wealth; he should enjoy trouble for himself that other may enjoy happiness and well-being. This is the attribute of man….

He who is so hard-hearted as to think only of his own comfort, such an one will not be called man.

Man is he who forgets his own interests for the sake of others. His own comfort he forfeits for the well-being of all. Nay, rather, his own life must he be willing to forfeit for the life of mankind.24‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979), p. 42.

Although personal transformation is seen as a lifelong process, according to the Bahá’í texts, the foundations of altruistic behavior can be developed in childhood. Children are believed to be born with the capacity for good or bad behavior; during the course of their development they can be influenced by their social interactions, especially in the family. Thus, the development of the prosocial individual begins with the training and socialization of children. The Bahá’í writings urge parents to

teach [children] to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.25Selections, p. 129.  So crucial is the teaching of prosocial behavior that training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning.26Selections, p. 135.

However, teaching children lofty ideas is not considered sufficient on its own. Emphasis is repeatedly placed upon behavior rather than profession of belief—on deeds, not words. Thus, the most powerful method by which children can be taught a prosocial orientation is the model of parents whose actions reflect the ideal personality characteristics.

The impact of modeling on children has received significant support in the literature on altruism and prosocial behavior. Mussen and Eisenberg-Berg write, “A substantial proportion of the individual’s helping and sharing responses is acquired through observation and imitation of a model’s behavior without direct reinforcements.”27Mussen, P., and N. Eisenberg-Berg, Roots of Caring, Sharing, and Helping: The Development of Prosocial Behavior in Children (San Francisco: Freeman, 1977), p. 31. Yarrow, Scott, and Waxler conclude that “generalized altruism would appear to be best learned from parents who do not only try to inculcate the principles of altruism, but who also manifest altruism in everyday interactions.”28Yarrow, M.R., P. Scott, and C.Z. Waxler, “Learning Concern for Others.” Developmental Psychology (1973), p. 256. The role of parental influence in fostering the development of the altruistic personality has been further underscored by Oliner and Oliner in The Altruistic Personality, their study of rescuers of Jews during World War II.29Oliner, Samuel P., and Pearl M. Oliner, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (New York: Free Press, 1988).

Another area of related emphasis is parental discipline. The Bahá’í writings state that, “It is incumbent upon every father and mother to counsel their children over a long period, and guide them unto those things which lead to everlasting honour.”30Selections, p. 134. The development of good character and behavior in children, however, is to be encouraged through the love, understanding, and wise guidance of the parents, using reason rather than force. Bahá’í texts strongly discourage the use of physical punishment or verbal abuse of children, stating that, “it is not… permissible to strike a child, or vilify him for the child’s character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse.”31Selections, p. 125.

The Bahá’í view on parental discipline is supported by contemporary social psychologists. Hoffman, as well as others, suggests that the use of physical power or material resources to control a child’s behavior (power assertion) is least effective in developing consideration for others. Power-assertion techniques of discipline promote in children aggressive behavior, self-centered values, and an unwillingness to share with other children.32Hoffman, Martin, “Moral Internalization, Parental Power, and the Nature of Parent-Child Interaction.” Developmental Psychology 11 (1975) pp. 228-239. In contrast, the disciplinary technique of induction—reasoning and explanation based on the impact of the child’s behavior on others—encourages prosocial behavior.33Mussen and Eisenberg-Berg, Roots.

Bahá’í child socialization aims to develop a prosocial orientation in children, who are encouraged to recognize themselves as members of a community that begins with the family and extends to include all of humanity. They are encouraged to develop a sense of personal spiritual responsibility to act toward others with empathy and compassion as well as justice and equity, and to sacrifice their own material self-interests for others in need. As adults, Bahá’ís are expected to make a commitment to continue internalizing such patterns until they become the foundation of the personality itself. Spiritual development is seen as an infinite process of self-transformation—that is, a continual, conscious refining of one’s behavior in the crucible of social interaction. The cultivation of spiritual, altruistic qualities remains the aim and central focus of life for the adult Bahá’í.

In light of recent research, it is noteworthy that both the ethical principles of justice and of caring, important motivators of altruistic behavior (see Oliner and Oliner, The Altruistic Personality), are emphasized in the Bahá’í writings, where they are not viewed as contradictory or exclusive but as inseparably connected. Even when the ethic of justice is enjoined, it is usually as a practice to be performed out of concern for others. Justice is presented as the practice of equity, often linked with “safeguard[ing] the rights of the downtrodden….”34Gleanings, p. 247. The Bahá’í conception of justice means that all have a right to receive care.

Well over half a century before Carol Gilligan called attention to the complementarity of the “masculine” ethic of justice and the “feminine” ethic of caring,35Gilligan, Carol, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had written: “The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind….” He then qualified this statement, asserting that oppression must be opposed: “Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before.”36Selections, p. 158.

The Bahá’í teachings recognize that the transformation of individuals into altruistic persons cannot take place outside the social context, which must provide a matrix for that transformation. Recent research has drawn attention to the importance of group norms in motivating moral behavior, whether directly, as a response to the social expectations as such, or indirectly, as internalized personal norms.37Reykowski, Janusz, “Motivation of Prosocial Behavior.” In Cooperation and Helping Behavior: Theories and Research, ed. V.J. Derlaga and J. Gri-

The findings of Oliner and Oliner, outlined in The Altruistic Personality, further emphasize the importance of the “normocentric” orientation in motivating the altruism of rescuers of Jews during World War II.

Such findings imply that, while altruistic qualities must be fostered in individuals, a social framework must also be provided within which extensivity and altruism are valued and represent the norms of the group itself. The creation of such a society is inseparable from the development of individual altruistic personalities, for, so long as groups value egocentrism, unfettered individualism, status seeking, dominance, and a materialistic orientation, altruism will remain an exception to the rule, and the altruistic personality will appear as deviant in comparison to the rest of the group. In Bahá’í society, this situation is reversed:

Altruism is not an aberrant behavior contrary to convention because the normative expectations (which individuals are ultimately expected to internalize) are altruistic. It is beyond the scope of this discussion to describe in its entirety the social order Bahá’ís envision and to which they are committed. However, they believe that much of it will be the fruit of the process of integration of now isolated or even hostile races, groups, and nations who, as they come together and unite in the same cause, become transformed and help transform each other, and bring to the rising institutions of a new World Order the richness of different cultures and of different social thought and experience.38Arbab, “Process,” p. 11.

Thus, in the Bahá’í view, it is through the individual practice as well as the institutionalization of the principle of unity in diversity that human society can evolve to an unprecedented level of cohesion and cooperation, and transcend the limitations implicit in the current state of separation and competitiveness. While the Bahá’í conception of unity in diversity should not be construed as merely a version of liberal pluralism, the safeguarding and encouraging of diverse elements within the Bahá’í community is a major institutional principle. It is embedded within Bahá’í institutions through practices that require the participation and support of the entire Bahá’í community because they apply at all levels of administrative and community functioning—local, national, and international.

Most prominent of these practices is consultation, a group decision-making process whose goal is to reach solutions to problems by consensus. Bahá’í consultation encourages the open and frank expression of diverse views on the topic under discussion in an atmosphere of love and respect that also allow the “clash of differing opinions” that can strike the “shining spark of truth”.39Bahá’í Administration, p. 21.

Each member of the consultative group has an equal right of expression, and no blocs, factions, or any subdivision of the group are permitted. Inseparable from the Bahá’í consultative process is the development of sensitivity and respect for the different voices whose expressions of opinion may not fit into conventional or dominant cultural modes of communication. Since the group attempts to work toward consensus on an issue, voting only as a last resort, the process does not necessarily require reduction to duality: alternatives need not be narrowed down to the two poles “for” and “against”. Instead, the consultative process itself, drawing on the interactive contributions of all its diverse members, is looked to as the creative source of new solutions.

Consultation is regarded both as a method for generative decision making and conflict resolution as well as an instrument for reinforcing the unity of a diverse group. It is the method by which the Bahá’í administrative institutions conduct the affairs of the Bahá’í community, but Bahá’ís are also encouraged to use consultation in all aspects of their lives, whether in the family, neighborhood, or workplace.

Another way in which Bahá’í administrative institutions are structured to implement unity in diversity involves practices intended to ensure the participation of minority ethnic populations. (The definition of what constitutes a “minority” is left to the discretion of the national institution in each country.) “To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority”, is considered to be “a flagrant violation of the spirit” of the Bahá’í teachings.40Each member of the consultative group has an equal right of expression, and no blocs, factions, or any subdivision of the group are permitted. Inseparable from the Bahá’í consultative process is the development of sensitivity and respect for the different voices whose expressions of opinion may not fit into conventional or dominant cultural modes of communication. Since the group attempts to work toward consensus on an issue, voting only as a last resort, the process does not necessarily require reduction to duality: alternatives need not be narrowed down to the two poles “for” and “against”. Instead, the consultative process itself, drawing on the interactive contributions of all its diverse members, is looked to as the creative source of new solutions. Consultation is regarded both as a method for generative decision making and conflict resolution as well as an instrument for reinforcing the unity of a diverse group. It is the method by which the Bahá’í administrative institutions conduct the affairs of the Bahá’í community, but Bahá’ís are also encouraged to use consultation in all aspects of their lives, whether in the family, neighborhood, or workplace. Another way in which Bahá’í administrative institutions are structured to implement unity in diversity involves practices intended to ensure the participation of minority ethnic populations. (The definition of what constitutes a “minority” is left to the discretion of the national institution in each country.) “To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority”, is considered to be “a flagrant violation of the spirit” of the Bahá’í teachings. In principle, protecting the “just interests of any minority element within the Bahá’í community” and ensuring that all have the opportunity to contribute their perspectives to collaborative efforts of the group, is considered so important that representatives of minority populations “are not only enabled to enjoy equal rights and privileges, but they are even favored and accorded priority.”41Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973 (Wilmette, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 49. Bahá’í communities are instructed that it is their duty to ensure that “Bahá’í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible.”42Advent, p. 36.

One way in which the principle is practiced is the minority tie rule of Bahá’í elections. In the course of elections for Bahá’í administrative institutional membership—elections conducted without nominations or campaigning and decided by plurality vote—if voting results in a tie between persons, one of whom represents a minority, “priority should unhesitatingly be accorded the party representing the minority, and this for no other reason except to stimulate and encourage it, and afford it an opportunity to further the interests of the community.”43Advent, p. 35.

 In addition to its direct effect in increasing minority representation on Bahá’í administrative institutions, the practice of this rule heightens the sensitivity of the group to its minority membership and reaffirms the group commitment to valuing and encouraging minority participation. For the individual believer, conceding a tie vote to the minority representation becomes a concrete opportunity to practice sacrifice of self-interest for the other within a context of social approval.

Whether applied in community administration, in the family, in education, or in the economy, the Bahá’í principles and practices are viewed as catalysts whose application will ultimately bring about social transformation leading to the development of an altruistic global society. Such a society, in the Bahá’í context, begins with the individual striving daily toward personal transformation—the deliberate internalization of spiritual teachings incorporating altruistic, extensive values as personal norms. The Bahá’í teachings strive to imbue individuals with an inclusive orientation transcending, though not suppressing, other group loyalties and valuing the well-being of the entire planet and all its inhabitants. Throughout the Bahá’í writings, the vision imparted to the individual is that of a peaceful, just, and caring civilization whose foundation rests on the cornerstone of the unity of all human beings, a unity that is to be consolidated and protected by institutions which reflect and promote the principles of unity, equity, and altruistic service as normative expectations.

By Azíz Yazdí

In 1856, or thereabouts, even as the little city of Yazd, in the very heart of Persia, was carrying on its lackluster existence, something was astir. The town’s population for the most part lived in poverty and ignorance, unaware of what was happening in the rest of the world. But there was something stirring. There was hushed talk of the Báb, the new Prophet Who had been martyred, and of the Message He had brought. There were people secretly spreading the news at the risk of their lives.

A youth, only fourteen, came into contact with these people, heard the Message and wholeheartedly accepted it. Only fourteen years of age! His name was Shaykh ’Alí. He was the eldest son of the well-to-do and highly respected Hájí ‘Abdu’r-Rahím Yazdí. The family was alarmed. The boy was in grave danger. His allegiance could bring ruin to the whole family. But Shaykh ’Alí was ablaze. To distract him from the Bábí Faith, his family sent him to Kirmán with enough goods to start a business. The shop was successful but soon rumors floated back that he was meeting with the Bábís. ‘Abdu’r-Rahmín went to Kirmán and brought him home.

In Yazd the boy again attended the secret meetings and took aid to the beleaguered Bábís who were imprisoned there. One night he was so late returning home that his mother, terribly worried, waited for him at the door and when he came in, slapped him, without saying a word. In silence he took her hand, kissed it tenderly, and gazed at her with deep love.

Throughout this difficult time, in the face of the calumnies and persecutions heaped upon the Bábís by their enemies, Shaykh ’Alí displayed a kindness and fearlessness remarkable in one so young. As time passed, his character, his behavior, his attitude and his actions gradually won over the whole family. One by one they joined the Faith. Now meetings were held in the Yazdí home though the need for secrecy remained paramount. Teachers came from other cities, each with new tales. Some who came from Baghdád spoke of Bahá’u’lláh. Later they came from Adrianople, and then from ‘Akká.

My father, Hájí Muhammad, who like his brother had joined the Faith when he was fourteen, left for the Holy Land with a friend, a donkey, lots of faith and very little money. He and his companion set out to see Bahá’u’lláh and traveled over steep, rugged mountains and across hot, arid plains until they arrived in ‘Akká, around 1870. Other members of the family followed later. Hájí ‘Abdu’r-Rahím, my grandfather, left Yazd after he had been tortured, beaten and bastinadoed. The story of this ‘precious soul’, as the Master called him, his arrival in ‘Akká, and his life there, is told with tender compassion by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Memorials of the Faithful. Each member of the Yazdí family was given an assignment by Bahá’u’lláh and sent out to accomplish it. Hájí Muhammad, my father, and two other youthful believers were sent to Egypt where they worked hard for many years and eventually built up a prosperous business.

Through these believers – all young people – the Faith was first established in Alexandria, Cairo and Port Said. Although they were not free to openly teach the Faith they were on good terms with the population and were generally well-liked and respected.

My family and I lived in a suburb of Alexandria called Ramleh, a beautiful and peaceful residential district on the edge of the Mediterranean. The house in which I was born and where I lived until I was about four or five, had a separate guest house and a large garden surrounded by a wall of rough-hewn stone. Within the garden there were many lime, sweet lemon, orange and pomegranate trees as well as rose bushes. In the summer a tropical scent hung in the air. The house to which we then moved also had a large garden. Jasmine grew over the veranda, a large porch adjoining the garden. Here our family often had breakfast, with father presiding at the samovar and dispensing glasses of hot tea to the adults and, to the children, hot water with a drop of tea floating on top. Before breakfast, however, we chanted our morning prayers and heard father tell wonderful stories about his experiences with Bahá’u’lláh and the Master, or read the latest communications from the Holy Land.

It was in this setting, when I was a child of eleven, that I heard the news of the coming of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Ramleh. The news came suddenly, without warning. The Master had left Haifa without notice on a steamer bound for Europe. Because of ill health and fatigue, He had stopped in Port Said and was coming on to Alexandria. Then the news came that He was coming to Ramleh! To Ramleh where we lived! What a miracle! There was intense joy within the Bahá’í community, within my family, within me. Of all the places in the world, He happened to choose Ramleh as His headquarters for His trips to Europe and America during the period 1910-1913. Excitement, curiosity, anticipation swirled through my mind. All I knew about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was what my father had told us. No one in the immediate family except father and grandfather had seen Him. The only photograph was an early one taken when He was a young man in Adrianople. He was a prisoner beyond our reach, a legendary figure. Now He was free and coming to Ramleh! The Bahá’í Faith was an integral part of me, not something superimposed. In Ramleh I was surrounded by it, lived it, believed it, cherished its spiritual concepts and goals and principles. I realized its fundamental importance, its necessity for the world today. Yet my studies at the French school which I attended had opened other areas to my mind. The discoveries of science fascinated me and I believed they provided us with effective tools for the implementation of the teachings of the Faith. I prayed that I might be guided to play some role in this endeavour. I sensed that my contact with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would provide the inspiration and the impetus to move in this direction. So I waited eagerly for the day of His arrival.

There was a crowd gathered in front of the Hotel Victoria. Suddenly there was a hush, a stillness, and I knew that He had come. I looked. There He was! He walked through the crowd – slowly, majestically, smiling radiantly as He greeted the bowed heads on either side. I could only get a vague impression as I could not get near Him. The sound of the wind and surf from the nearby shore drowned out His voice so I could hardly hear Him. Nevertheless, I went away happy.

A few days later, a villa was rented for the Master and His family, not far from the Hotel Victoria, in a lovely residential section that lay right next to the beautiful Mediterranean and the beaches. Like all the villas in that area, it had a garden with blossoms and flowering shrubs. It was there that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá chose to receive His guests – a great variety of notables, public figures, clerics, aristocrats, writers as well as poor and despairing people. I went there often, sometimes on the way home from school, sometimes on weekends. When I was not in school I spent most of my time in His time in His garden. I would wait to catch a glimpse of Him as He came out for His customary walk, or conversed with pilgrims from faraway places. To hear His vibrant and melodious voice ringing in the open air, to see Him, somehow exhilarated me and gave me hope. Quite often, He came to me and smiled and talked. There was a radiance about Him, an almost unlimited kindness and love that shone from Him. Seeing Him, I was infused with a feeling of goodness. I felt humble and, at the same time, exceedingly happy.

I had many opportunities to see the Master – as we always called Him – at meetings and on festive occasions. I especially remember the first time He came to our house to address a large gathering of believers. The friends were all gathered, talking happily, waiting. Suddenly all grew quiet. From outside, before He entered the room, I could hear the voice of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, very resonant, very beautiful. Then He swept in, with His robe flowing! He was straight as an arrow. His head was thrown back. His silver-gray hair fell in waves to His shoulders. His beard was white; His eyes were keen; His forehead, broad. He wore a white turban around an ivory-colored felt cap.

He looked at everyone, smiled and welcomed all with Khushámadíd!Khushámadíd! (Welcome! Welcome!) I had been taught that in the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I should sit or stand with my hands crossed in front of me, and look down. I was so anxious to see Him that I found myself looking up furtively now and then. He often spoke – I was privileged to hear Him speak on many subjects. For nine months it seemed like paradise. Then He left us and sailed for Europe. How dismal everything became. But there was school and there were duties. Exciting news came from Europe, and there were memories! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came back four months later. Paradise returned. He spoke to me on several occasions, calling me Shaykh ’Alí, the name He Himself had given me, after my uncle who was the first member of the family to join the Faith. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to me, I would look into His eyes – blue, smiling and full of love.

Again He left us, this time for America. I will never forget the scene of His departure as He came out of the house and turned to wave gazing down from the veranda above. They were greatly concerned about His safety and well-being. He was sixty-eight years old. He had suffered many hardships and endured severe trials. He had been in prison for forty years of His life and now He was undertaking this journey to a far-off country utterly different from any to which He was accustomed. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had made up His mind and nothing could turn Him back. He walked out of the garden gate and never looked back again. He walked for several blocks near the shore to take the electric train to Alexandria where He would board the ship that was to take Him to New York. He was followed by about thirty believers who walked silently behind Him. I was one of them. What ‘Abdu’l-Bahá accomplished in America is now history. He went to Europe and came back to Ramleh on 3 July 1913, to remain until the following December. Then He left for Haifa, never to return.

That was the first chapter of my experience with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when I was a child between the ages of eleven and fourteen. In 1914 my family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, only a short distance north of Haifa. This opened the second chapter when I was privileged to be in the presence of the Master again, but only on special occasions. I was at that time a student at the American University of Beirut, then known as the Syrian Protestant College. In the summer of 1917 I spent my summer vacation with my uncle, Mírzá Husayn Yazdí, in his house on Mt. Carmel, a memorable two months for me. Every evening before sunset I had the bounty of being in the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. I would join the other believers gathered in front of the Master’s house. The entrance had an iron gate and then a garden. He would come out with a cheerful and warm greeting, welcome all, and take His seat on the platform at the head of the wide stairs. The sun was going down, and it was very quiet. Sometimes He sat in a relaxed attitude and didn’t speak at all. Usually, however, He spoke. He talked in His commanding voice, looking straight ahead, as if He were addressing posterity. He talked about Bahá’u’lláh, about His Teachings, and about significant world events in the history of the Faith. He told stories sprinkled with humour. Often, however, He talked of the believers around the world and of their progress in spreading the Faith. Then He would become wistful. For three years, while World War I raged, He had little news from abroad. The isolation and constraint weighed heavily upon Him. Now and then He would address individuals in the audience, ask them about their families, their work, their problems; He would offer advice and help. Toward the end, He would ask one of the believers to chant verses from the poems of Bahá’u’lláh. When the chanting ended, the meeting was over. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would arise and enter the house. Dusk would have descended over Haifa.

There were frequent visits to the Shrine of the Báb. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would ride the old horse-drawn, bus-like vehicle up the mountain. The rest of us would walk along the rocky road, past the Pilgrim House, to the terrace overlooking the city of Haifa, the blue bay beyond and, in the distance, the hazy outline of ‘Akká. We would gather there until ‘Abdu’l-Bahá appeared and entered the Shrine. He would chant the Tablet of Visitation. Sometimes He asked Shoghi Effendi to chant this prayer. And when it was all over and the believers began to leave the Shrine, He would stand at the door with a bottle of rose water and put a little in each one’s hand. There were also trips – less frequent – to ‘Akká and Bahjí, and visits to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. There were also times that summer when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went in the horse-drawn carriage to Tiberias, Lake Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, of Biblical renown. His purpose on these trips was to oversee the grain crops which the believers, under His supervision, had planted in the Jordan Valley. The grain the Master had stored in ancient Roman pits was to be distributed to everyone who needed it, Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í alike. On 27 April 1920, in the garden of the Military Governor of Haifa, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was invested with the insignia of the Knighthood of the British Empire in recognition of His humanitarian work during the war for the relief of distress and famine.

I would sometimes go into ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s garden and talk with Ismá’íl Áqá, the gardener, an old man beloved by the Master. On one of’ my visits to the Master’s garden I noticed that everyone was quiet. When I asked why, I was told that a commission of inquiry was interrogating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His room. I could hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s clear, commanding voice through the open window above our heads. He spoke to the members of the commission with dignity and authority as if He were the investigator and they the suspected culprits.

Although He was humble in many ways, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá never really bowed to anyone; at the right time, and in the right way, He was proud. He would not compromise the Cause of God. Somehow, the confidence with which the Master spoke gave me confidence and faith that He would be spared. Those were dangerous and difficult days. The violators were active and Jamál Páshá had vowed that he would crucify ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when he returned victorious from his campaigns. When he did return, however, he was fleeing in defeat and humiliation. Despite the turbulence of this period the Master conferred upon the Bahá’ís of the west their world mission by revealing the Tablets of the Divine Plan, eight in 1916 and six in 1917.

I remember other little details from the summer of 1917, such as eating at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s table. He ate very simply, but He insisted on others having the proper amount of food. Quite often He would come behind the guests and speak to them. I remember His standing behind my chair saying, ‘Why aren’t you eating?’ I was hungry, but my shyness prevented my eating. ‘Why aren’t you eating, Shaykh ’Alí?’ And He placed a generous portion of rice on my plate. I had to eat it! One day, when I was walking along a curved street up the hill toward the House of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I turned the corner and there He was!

I saw the Master walking down the hill, followed by two of the believers. As was the custom, I stepped to one side and bowed. The Master stopped and walked over to me, stopped right in front of me, and looked me straight in the eyes. I shall never forget having seen ‘Abdu’l-Bahá face to face.

What was He like? His bearing was majestic, and yet He was genial. He was full of contrasts: dominant, yet humble; strong, yet tender; loving and affectionate, yet He could be very stern. He was intensely human, most keenly alive to the joys and sorrows of this life. There was no one who felt more acutely than He did the sufferings of humanity.

At the end of the summer I went to see my family in Damascus before going back to college to graduate. Then I returned home. The war seemed to drag on and on, but finally the end came. Our great concern was Haifa: what had happened there? But soon the news arrived: General Allenby and the British had occupied Haifa and the Master was safe. As the doors to the outside world opened again we began to make plans. There was much thinking and counting of pennies. I had studied civil engineering and had been hired as a draftsman by the government. From my earnings I had saved a little, but it wasn’t enough to enable me to go on with my graduate studies. News of this reached ‘Abdu’l-Bahá through my uncle, Mirza Husayn, and the Master offered me one hundred pounds which, in those days, was the equivalent of about $500.00. That made it possible for me to go. I wasted no time. In the autumn of 1919 I went to Haifa in order to say farewell to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. I was on my way to Europe – Switzerland and then Germany – for my graduate studies. I was twenty years old. This was to be my last experience with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

I was in Haifa for two or three days. Just before I left ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called me to His room. I was there alone with Him; the only other person was Shoghi Effendi, who was in and out. The Master invited me to be seated and He asked Shoghi Effendi to bring me some tea. He spoke to me, gave me instructions on how to live, mentioned that He had hopes for me. He said, ‘You are a good boy, Shaykh ’Alí. The tea that Shoghi Effendi brought in a glass was boiling hot. I tried to drink it, but couldn’t. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘Drink! Drink your tea!’ So I had to drink it! It didn’t matter! At the very end He gave me His blessing. Then He stood up and beckoned me to Him. I went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and He put His arms around me and kissed me on both cheeks. I never saw Him again.

Two years later, when I was at the University of California studying civil engineering, I learned of‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ascension. Looking back, I can see that the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá marked the end of an era. He was passionately devoted to the single goal of spreading the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. It was His mission to establish the brotherhood of man on earth in fact, as well as in principle. Nothing stopped Him; nothing deflected Him from His purpose. And yet it was not easy, for despite His high station, He was also intensely human, and He suffered a great deal. He was often very happy, and He always asked the Bahá’ís to be happy. Be happy! Be happy! That was His counsel to the believers, and He set the example. But there were times when I would see Him with the burdens of the whole world upon His shoulders.

There is something I learned from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which I feel should not be forgotten. His life was not really His life alone; it was the life of every one of us. It was an example for every one of us. A new generation of Bahá’ís is being attracted to the Faith, and a new generation is growing up within the Bahá’í community. They will acquire knowledge of the Faith from books. But this is a living Faith. The Manifestation of God has appeared and initiated a new era. Bahá’ís have lived and worked and died for this Cause. The Faith is not something extraneous; it is not merely something beautiful, logical, just and fair – it is the very blood and fibre of our being, our very life. If men and women all over the world were to arise in ever-increasing numbers and make ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s way of life their own, each pursuing His path with zest and confidence, what would the world be like? Would not these individuals be a new race of men?

By Horace Holley

The Universe of Palomar

The largest telescope yet designed has been raised by scientists on a mountain under the clear California sky. Its lens, measuring sixteen feet eight inches in diameter, gathers light with so much more intensity than the human eye that its reflected image discloses an endless heaven hung with brilliant orbs. Its power is so encompassing that it extends human vision to bodies whose distance from the earth, measured by the time required for the travel of a ray of light, is not less than one billion years.

August 1941: Telescope structure visible through dome slit. (Palomar/Caltech Archives)

Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles a second, no terrestrial system of measurement can contain this utter remoteness or translate it into ordinary human meaning.

The universe of Palomar engulfs the small and familiar worlds sustained by the imagination of the poet, the shepherd and the mariner of ancient times. Its infinity of space and time can never be subjective to hope or fear. It is a motion we cannot stay, a direction we cannot divert, a peace we cannot impair, a power we cannot control. Here existence realizes the fulness of its purpose. The design and the material, the means and the end, the law and the subject, seem wholly one.

At Palomar the mind of man, standing on tiptoe, can behold the cosmic spectacle and grow by the eternal majesty it feeds on, but searching east or west or north or south one finds here no candle lighted to welcome the errant human heart.

“This nature,” the Bahá’í teachings observe, “is subjected to an absolute organization, to determined laws, to a complete order and a finished design, from which it will never depart; to such a degree, indeed, that if you look carefully and with keen sight, from the smallest invisible atom up to such large bodies of the world of existence as the globe of the sun or the other great stars and luminous spheres, whether you regard their arrangement, their composition, their form or their movement, you will find that all are in the highest degree of organization, and are under one law from which they will never depart.

“But when you look at nature itself, you see that it has no intelligence, no will … Thus it is clear that the natural movements of all things are compelled; there are no voluntary movements except those of animals, and above all, those of man. Man is able to deviate from and to oppose nature, because he discovers the constitution of things, and through this he commands the forces of nature; all the inventions he has made are due to his discovery of the constitution of things …

“Now, when you behold in existence such organizations, arrangements, and laws, can you say that all these are the effects of nature, though nature has neither intelligence nor perception? If not, it becomes evident that this nature, which has neither perception nor intelligence, is in the grasp of Almighty God Who is the Ruler of the world of nature; whatever He wishes He causes nature to manifest.”1‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. p.3.

Another passage states: “Know that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God. Each, according to its capacity, is, and will ever remain, a token of the Almighty . . . So pervasive and general is this revelation that nothing whatsoever in the whole universe can be discovered that does not reflect His splendor . . . Were the Hand of Divine Power to divest of this high endowment all created things, the entire universe would become desolate and void.’’2Bahá’í World Faith. p.97.

The Bahá’í teachings also declare: “Earth and heaven cannot contain Me; what can alone contain Me is the heart of him that believes in Me, and is faithful to My Cause.”3Bahá’í World Faith. p.98.

Man’s Inner World

From man’s inner world of hope and fear the cry for help has never been raised so desperately nor so generally across the whole earth. Civilization is in conflict with the man of nature. Civilization betrays the man of understanding and feeling. The individual has become engulfed in struggles of competitive groups employing different weapons to attain irreconcilable ends. The beginning and the end of his actions lie concealed in the fiery smoke of furious, interminable debate. His personal world has been transformed into an invaded area he knows not how to defend.

Sickness of soul, like physical ailment, manifests itself in many forms. It need not be a localized pain nor an acute sense of shock and disability. An ailment can produce numbness as well as torment, or it can spare the victim’s general health but deprive him of sight, hearing or the use of a limb.

Soul sickness that goes deep into the psychic organism seldom finds relief in hysteria or other visible adjustments to ill-being. It expresses itself in successive re-orientations to self and to society, each of which results in a conviction representing a definite choice or selection between several possibilities. When the conviction hardens, all possibilities but one are denied and dismissed. If individuals come to realize that effort to express certain qualities through their daily lives is continuously unsuccessful, they will, in the majority of cases, abandon the exercise of that quality and concentrate on others. If individuals find that their civilization makes demands on them for the exercise of qualities they personally condemn, in most cases the necessary adjustment is made.

The modern individual is in the same position as the mountain climber bound to other climbers by a rope. At all times he is compelled to choose between freedom and protection—to balance his rights and his loyalties, and compromise between his duty to protect others and his duty to develop something unique and important in himself. As long as the route and the goal are equally vital to all the climbers, the necessary adjustments can be made without undue strain. But modern life binds together in economic, political and other arrangements groups of people who never entered into a pact of mutual agreement, who inwardly desire and need diverse things. The rope that binds them is a tradition, a convention, an inherited obligation no longer having power to fulfill.

Here, in essence, is the tragic sickness of modern man. What he sows he cannot reap. What he reaps he cannot store until a new harvest ripens. He feeds on another’s desire, he wills to accomplish an alien task, he works to destroy the substance of his dearest hope. Moral standards stop at the frontier of the organized group. Partisan pressures darken the heavens of understanding.

Humanity is undergoing a complete transformation of values. The individual is being transplanted from his customary, sheltered traditional way of life to the vast and disruptive confusions of a world in torment. The institutions which have afforded him social or psychic well-being are themselves subject to the same universal dislocation. The label no longer identifies the quality or purpose of the organization. One cannot retreat into the isolation of primitive simplicity; one cannot advance without becoming part of a movement of destiny which no one can control nor define.

Where can a new and creative way of life be found? How can men attain knowledge of the means to justify their legitimate hope, fulfill their normal emotions, satisfy their intelligence, unify their aims and civilize their activities? The astronomer has his polished lens of Palomar to reveal the mysteries of the physical universe. Where can mankind turn to behold the will and purpose of God?

Conscience: The Mirror Hung in a Darkened Room

Many persons feel that in man there is a power of conscience that will unfailingly, like the compass needle, point to the right goal. If in any individual case, this conception believes, the power of conscience fails to operate, it is because the human being himself has betrayed his own divine endowment. He has heard the voice but refused to heed. He has seen the right course of action but preferred to take the evil path.

If we examine this contention as applied to ourselves and others familiar to us over a considerable period of time, we find that conscience, as a faculty, cannot be understood by reference to any such naive and conventional view.

The individual has no private wire to God. The dictates or impulses we call conscience indicate different courses of action at different times. The truth, the law, the appropriate principle or the perfect expression of love is not when wanted conveyed to our minds like a photograph printed from a negative developed in the subconscious self. No individual can afford to rely for guidance in all vital affairs on the testimony offered from within.

Individual conscience appears to be compounded of many ingredients at this stage of mass development: childhood training, personal aptitude, social convention, religious tradition, economic pressure, public opinion and group policy.

It is when we examine individual conscience in the area of social action and public responsibility that its limitations become clear. Public policy is the graveyard in which the claim to perfect personal guidance lies interred. In every competitive situation involving social groups, conscientious persons are found on both sides of the struggle. The conscience of one leads to a definition of value or a course of action which stultifies the other. Conscientious persons in the same group seldom agree on matters affecting the whole group. Individual conscience retreats to the realm of the private person when it cannot share or alter the conscience and conviction of others.

The result is that while theoretical exaltation of conscience is seldom abandoned, the operation of conscience, outside the small area controlled by personal will, is continuously suppressed. Policy is the conscience of the group, and dominant groups sanction collective actions frequently abhorrent to the individual. Our dominant groups are the successors to the primitive tribes in which the individual was once completely submerged. Like the primitive tribe, their basic policy is to survive.

So helpless has the individual become under pressure of world-shaking events that leaders of revolution dismiss his moral worth entirely from their considerations. The individual ceases to be a person. He is made subject to mass regulation under penalty of punishment for disobedience and, if obedient, under hope of his share of a mass award. Societies have arisen composed of this unmoral mass of human beings, the nature of which resembles the physical monsters terrorizing the earth aeons ago.

Between the naive spiritual conception of conscience as divine spark, and the naive rational view that conscience is automatic response to external stimuli, the actual truth undoubtedly lies.

Human conscience is a quality existing in different stages of development. In the child it makes for obedience to the power by which the child is protected. It can manifest as an expression of the instinct of self-survival or self-development. It can inspire loyalty to the group. It can subject the individual to complete sacrifice for the sake of his group or for the truth he most reveres.

Moral attitudes become established through social education and discipline conducted over long periods of time. The moral worth of the individual consists in his capacity to share in a process of endless evolution. Though at times he seems bogged down in the swamp of evil, the ladder of development stands close to his hand and he can ascend it rung by rung. His moral responsibility can never be disclaimed by him nor voided by others on his behalf, since the principle of cause and effect operates throughout all life. No man and no society exists in a universe shaped to the pattern of human desire.

Conscience is not a form of wisdom or knowledge. It cannot be dissociated from the development of the individual or from the condition of his society. But one may say that conscience is a mirror hung in a room. If the room is darkened the mirror reflects but dimly. Light is needed—the light of truth and love. Then will the mirror of spiritual awareness disclose to the individual the essential nature of his own problem of choice, and open for him the door that leads from the private person to mankind. The helplessness of the individual today is due to the absence of light.

“When man allows the spirit, through his soul, to enlighten his understanding, then does he contain all creation; because man, being the culmination of all that went before and thus superior to all previous evolutions, contains all the lower world within himself. Illuminated by the spirit through the instrumentality of the soul, man’s radiant intelligence makes him the crowning-point of creation.

“But on the other hand when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom. In this case the man is in a sorry plight! For if the spiritual qualities of the soul, open to the breath of the Divine Spirit, are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapacitated; while the soul’s material qualities alone being exercised, they become terribly powerful, and the unhappy, misguided man becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves.

“If, on the contrary, the spiritual nature of the soul has been so strengthened that it holds the material side in subjection, then does the man approach the divine; his humanity becomes so glorified that the virtues of the celestial assembly are manifest in him; he radiates the mercy of God, he stimulates the spiritual progress of mankind, for he becomes a lamp to show light on their path.”4Compiled by Horace Holley. The Reality of Man. p.6.

In such words the Bahá’í teachings describe the two paths which open before each human being, choice of which he himself is free to make.

Sectarianism—From Creation to Chaos

If individual conscience cannot illumine from man’s inner world the nature of basic social problems, what of religion? Have the traditional faiths such command of spiritual truth that they can serve as the guide and conscience of mankind? Do these sects and denominations constitute the moral Palomar bestowing vision upon a divided, a desperate humanity? Has God spoken to our age from these minarets, these temples, mosques, chapels and churches which represent the meaning and purpose of religion to the masses in East and West?

The world of sectarian religion is not a universe, ordered by one central creative will, but the fragments of a world which no human authority has power to restore. There are the main bodies of ancient, revealed religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Muhammadanism and Christianity, standing apart like continents separated by the salt, unplumbed sea. There are in each of these bodies a large number of independent, mutually exclusive subdivisions. Their diverse claims to organic sovereignty maintain in the realm of faith the same condition which exists among nations, principalities, kingdoms and empires. They deal with one another by treaty and truce; there are conquests and seizures, colonies and alliances, plans and strategies, wars and revolutions, all without control of the greater and vital movements of society or even foreknowledge of what was and is to come.

This is why mankind has suffered two world wars, social dislocation and a plague of immorality, faithlessness, materialism and discontent. No universal religious body has existed to stay the swift descent of our age into the gloom of savage strife. Events do not wait upon doctrinal readjustments. When peace does not exist in the world of the soul it cannot exist in any other realm of human intercourse and experience. The masses have been given no moral unity, no common purpose which, stamped with divine authority, could raise them above the fatal disunities and conflicts distilled by their economic and political institutions.

Yet each of these faiths was divinely revealed, imbued with a universal spirit, charged with a high creative mission, and established itself through the sacrifice and heroism of those early believers who beheld the Word of God. Each faith has reconsecrated human life and by its lifeblood nourished great progress in civilization. What has happened to the first, true vision? What has extinguished the flame upon the altar of worship?

The superhuman character of revelation has gradually undergone dilution and admixture. The human explanation of a truth has been substituted for the truth itself. The performance of ceremonial rites has come to occupy the place held by the mystery of spiritual rebirth. Obligation to a professionalized institution has weakened the duty laid upon individuals to serve society and mankind. The aim of a regenerated, righteous, peaceful civilization inspired by the founders of religion has become diverted into hope for the victory of the church. Sectarianism in essence is not freedom of religion. It is an opportunity to abandon the way of life revealed from on high and substitute belief for sacrifice, ritual for virtue, creed for understanding, and a group interest for the basic rights of mankind.

All things exist in a process of life and death, growth and development, extinction and renewal. The fact that what men devise as a counterfeit for truth is eventually destroyed, does not confirm the rejection of religion by the cynic or the materialist. On the contrary, the succession of faiths throughout the period of known history points to a complete vindication of faith in God, since He divides truth from error, the spirit from the letter. He punishes and He rewards. For every death He sends a new life.

“O army of life!” the Bahá’í teachings warn, “East and West have joined to worship stars of faded splendor and have turned in prayer unto darkened horizons. Both have utterly neglected the broad foundation of God’s sacred laws, and have grown unmindful of the merits and virtues of His religion. They have regarded certain customs and conventions as the immutable basis of the Divine Faith, and have firmly established themselves therein. They have imagined themselves as having attained the glorious pinnacle of achievement and prosperity when, in reality, they have touched the innermost depths of heedlessness and deprived themselves wholly of God’s bountiful gifts.

“The cornerstone of the Religion of God is the acquisition of the Divine perfections and the sharing in His manifold bestowals. The essential purpose of faith and belief is to ennoble the inner being of man with the outpourings of grace from on high. If this be not attained, it is indeed deprivation itself. It is the torment of infernal fire.”5‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p.43.

And even more definitely: “Superstitions have obscured the fundamental reality, the world is darkened and the light of religion is not apparent. This darkness is conducive to differences and dissensions; rites and dogmas are many and various; therefore discord has arisen among the religious systems whereas religion is for the unification of mankind. True religion is the source of love and agreement amongst men, the cause of the development of praiseworthy qualities; but the people are holding to the counterfeit and imitation, negligent of the reality which unifies, so they are bereft and deprived of the radiance of religion.”6Bahá’í World Faith. p.237.

“When the lights of religion become darkened the materialists appear. They are the bats of night. The decline of religion is their time of activity; they seek the shadows when the world is darkened and the clouds have spread over it.”7Bahá’í World Faith. p.238.

“If the edifice of religion shakes and totters, commotion and chaos will ensue and the order of things will be utterly upset.”8Bahá’í World Faith. p.289.

“Religious fanaticism and hatred,” the Bahá’í teachings affirm, “are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine Power can alone deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.”9Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. p.288.

Internationalism: The End of an Era

When changes take place in the spiritual life of a people, they produce effects not only upon the realm of personal conscience or upon the definitions of denominational faith—their results flow forth throughout the civilization. Society, indeed, is the outer surface of human action, as religion is the inner surface. The persons who are impressed with certain values from the religious teaching of their childhood, strive to fulfill them as adults in their civilization. The nations of the world are not composed of a separate race of human beings called citizens or subjects; all this mass of humanity who serve as citizens or subjects are at the same time members of different racial groups and members of different religious bodies.

Since religious training has for the most part been based upon pre-rational states of childhood, the vital assumptions of faith or theology continue from generation to generation without analysis or investigation. The child assumes that his religion sets him off in some mysterious but inevitable and justifiable manner from those people who belong to a different religion. This pre-rational experience becomes an imperative directing his activities in other fields, all the more effective because it works behind his conscious and rational thought. Religion has thus prepared the way for the spirit of exclusive nationalism, class competition and other self-centered types of social institution. The pre-rational experience of justifiable division matures in the irrational attitudes of partisan loyalty which set people off from one another in political and economic matters, eventuating in strife and ruin.

The modern nation represents the most powerful and effective social unity ever achieved. It has coordinated the human qualities and possibilities to an unprecedented degree, liberating people from servitude to nature and laying the foundations of orderly progress by reconciling the political claims of the state with the social and cultural needs of the individual. But like every human institution, the nation cannot become an end unto itself. It cannot draw arbitrary lines and decree that human evolution must stop short at this line or that. The nation cannot reduce all questions of human relations to political principle, and solve them by a formal relationship to the state.

The movement of life is irresistible. When the modern nation had organized its area and completed the creation of the necessary institutions, it became mature and incurred obligation to establish useful relationships with other nations. The nation became more and more involved in activities and affairs outside its boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction. Internationalism has been the principle of civilization for more than a hundred years, but the nations could not realize themselves as means to an end, as instruments called upon, for the sake of humanity, to create a sovereignty of and for the entire world. This moral resolution has been lacking.

Denied fulfilment in world order, modern internationalism has organized the nations for their own destruction. The social organism made an end unto itself becomes self-consuming. First there has been an interval of spiritual blindness, a miscalculation of the essential nature of human life; then a denial of the obligation to join with other nations for the sake of peace, then a denunciation of some threatening foe, and, finally, a plunge into the maelstrom where every trend toward world unity is accelerated faster than the public intelligence can comprehend.

Power to make permanent and workable decisions has been temporarily lost. Our international relations rest upon formal agreements which have not yet become translated into world relationships and hence remain subject to abrupt dissolution if the strains of social dislocation go to the breaking point. In this condition of crisis humanity stands, unable to return to the simpler societies of the past and unable to generate sufficient power for true unity in a world civilization. The races and peoples meet in a fateful encounter, each cherishing its separateness as a duty and a right. One may say that humanity does not yet exist, for men are not directed by a world consciousness or impelled by a mutual faith.

“Today the world of humanity,” the Bahá’í teachings stated a generation ago, “is in need of international unity and conciliation. To establish these great fundamental principles a propelling power is needed. It is self-evident that unity of the human world and the Most Great Peace cannot be accomplished through material means. They cannot be established through political power, for the political interests of nations are various and the policies of peoples are divergent and conflicting. They cannot be founded through racial or patriotic power, for these are human powers, selfish and weak. The very nature of racial differences and patriotic prejudices prevents the realization of this unity and agreement. Therefore it is evidenced that the promotion of the oneness of the kingdom of humanity, which is the essence of the teachings of all the Manifestations of God, is impossible except through the divine power and the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Other powers are too weak and are incapable of accomplishing this.”10‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p.5.

“Among the teachings … is man’s freedom, that through the ideal Power he should be free and emancipated from the captivity of the world of nature; for as long as man is captive to nature he is a ferocious animal, as the struggle for existence is one of the exigencies of the world of nature. This matter of the struggle for existence is the fountainhead of all calamities and is the supreme affliction.”11Bahá’í World Faith. p.288.

“Universal peace is a matter of great importance, but unity of conscience is essential, so that the foundation of this matter may became secure, its establishment firm and its edifice strong.”12Bahá’í World Faith. p.285.

In the Bahá’í writings, peace is revered because in essence it is a spiritual mystery in which humanity has been invited in our day, for the first time, to partake. Peace is a divine creation; a reconciliation of human and divine purpose. Peace appears first as a universal religion; as its influence gathers force and its principles spread then peace can permeate the body of society, redeeming its institutions and its activities and consecrating its aims.

“Universal peace,” these writings promise, “is assured … as a fundamental accomplishment of the religion of God; that peace shall prevail among nations, governments and peoples, among religions, races and all conditions of mankind. This is one of the special characteristics of the Word of God revealed in this Manifestation.”13Bahá’í World Faith. p.247.

Spiritual Education—The Instrument of Peace

The issues of human existence turn upon the axis of education. Education alone can overcome the inertia of our separateness, transmute our creative energies for the realization of world unity, free the mind from its servitude to the past and reshape civilization to be the guardian of our spiritual and physical resources.

The true purposes of education are not fulfilled by the knowledge conferred through civil education, since this knowledge ends with the purposes of the individual or the needs of the state. They are not fulfilled by sectarian education, since sectarian knowledge excludes the basic principle of the continuity and progressiveness of revelation. The true purposes of education are not achieved by independent pursuit of knowledge undertaken through study of the classics, the great philosophies or even the religious systems of the past. Such education enhances the individual capacity and deepens the insight of a group. It opens the door to a world of superior minds and heroic accomplishment. But that world is the reflection of the light of truth upon past conditions and events. It is not the rising of the sun to illumine our own time, inspire a unified world movement, and regenerate withered souls.

But that world is the reflection of the light of truth upon past conditions and events. It is not the rising of the sun to illumine our own time, inspire a unified world movement, and regenerate withered souls.

Nor may we hope that psychology can develop the necessary transforming power for a dislocated society, a scientific substitute for the primitive offices of religion. The explorer in the world of the psyche sees the projection of his own shadow, finds the answer determined by his own question. He can prove mechanistic determinism or demonstrate the freedom and responsibility of the soul. The area within which he works is suitable for the development of personal healing. He can learn the habitual reactions of persons in a group or of groups in a society, but this knowledge is statistical until applied by a comprehensive organ of intelligence on a world scale.

“The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal,” the Bahá’í teachings state, “is the rational soul; and these two names—the human spirit and the rational soul—designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings. But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.”

This significant comment is also found: “With the love of God all sciences are accepted and beloved, but without it, are fruitless; nay, rather, the cause of insanity. Every science is like unto a tree; if the fruit of it is the love of God, that is a blessed tree. Otherwise it is dried wood and finally a food for fire.”

A new and universal concept of education is found in the literature of the Bahá’í Faith.

“When we consider existence, we see that the mineral, vegetable, animal and human worlds are all in need of an educator.

“If the earth is not cultivated it becomes a jungle where useless weeds grow; but if a cultivator comes and tills the ground, it produces crops which nourish living creatures. It is evident, therefore, that the soil needs the cultivation of the farmer …

“The same is true with respect to animals: notice that when the animal is trained it becomes domestic, and also that man, if he is left without training becomes bestial, and, moreover, if left under the rule of nature, becomes lower than an animal, whereas if he is educated he becomes an angel. …

“Now reflect that it is education that brings the East and the West under the authority of man; it is education that produces wonderful industries; it is education that spreads glorious sciences and arts; it is education that makes manifest new discoveries and laws. If there were no educator there would be no such things as comforts, civilization, facilities, or humanity. …

“But education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the progress and development of the body, through gaining its sustenance, its material comfort and ease. This education is common to animals and man.

“Human education signifies civilization and progress: that is to say, government, administration, charitable works, trades, arts and handicrafts, sciences, great inventions and discoveries of physical laws, which are the activities essential to man as distinguished from the animal.

“Divine education is that of the Kingdom of God: it consists in acquiring divine perfections, and this is true education; for in this estate man becomes the center of divine appearance, the manifestation of the words, ‘Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.’ This is the supreme goal of the world of humanity.

“Now we need an educator who will be at the same time a material, human and spiritual educator, and whose authority will be effective in all conditions . . .

“It is clear that human power is not able to fill such a great office, and that the reason alone could not undertake the responsibility of so great a mission. How can one solitary person without help and without support lay the foundations of such a noble construction? He must depend on the help of the spiritual and divine power to be able to undertake this mission. One Holy Soul gives life to the world of humanity, changes the aspect of the terrestrial globe, causes intelligence to progress, vivifies souls, lays the foundation of a new existence, establishes the basis of a marvelous creation, organizes the world, brings nations and religions under the shadow of one standard, delivers man from the world of imperfections and vices, and inspires him with the desire and need of natural and acquired perfections. Certainly nothing short of a divine power could accomplish so great a work.’’14‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. p.8.

Who is this educator? “The holy Manifestations of God, the divine prophets, are the first teachers of the human race. They are universal educators and the fundamental principles they have laid down are the causes and factors of the advancement of nations. Forms and imitations which creep in afterward are not conducive to that progress. On the contrary these are destroyers of the human foundations laid by the heavenly educators.’’15Bahá’í World Faith. p.250.

“Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore, the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous.”16Bahá’í World Faith. p.224.

The Manifestation of God

The focal point of the Bahá’í teachings is clarification of man’s relationship to God. As long as peoples differ, or are unaware, or accept a substitute for this relationship, we cannot distinguish between truth and error, or discriminate between principle and superstition. Until we apprehend human beings in the light of the creative purpose, it is impossible to know ourselves or others. Social truth is merely experiment and hypothesis unless it forms part of a spiritual reality.

The founders of revealed religions, who have been termed prophets, messengers, messiahs and saviours, in the Bahá’í teachings are designated Manifestations of God. These beings, walking on earth as men, stand in a higher order of creation and are endowed with powers and attributes human beings do not possess. In the world of truth they shine like the sun, and the rays emanating from that sun are the light and the life of the souls of men.

The Manifestation is not God. The Infinite cannot be incarnated. God reveals His will through the Manifestation, and apart from what is thus manifested His will and reality remain forever unknown. The physical universe does not reveal the divine purpose for man.

“Every one of them,” the Bahá’í teachings state, “is the Way of God that connects this world with the realms above, and the standard of His truth, unto every one in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His truth, and the signs of His glory.”17Bahá’í World Faith. p.21.

What almighty power is exercised by a will manifested through a person who has been flouted, denied, imprisoned, tortured and crucified? No human authority could survive such savage onslaughts as have greeted each messenger who has come from the heavenly realm to this lowest of worlds. The divine power expresses itself by compulsion in the kingdoms of nature. In the kingdom of man the divine power operates in such a manner that men are free to accept and adore, or repudiate and condemn. The divine power compels that from age to age men must come to a decision, but the decision itself is free. By that decision, when the prophet has revealed the will of God, men separate into two organic companies: those who believe and those who deny.

The whole pattern and process of history rests upon the succession of dispensations by which man’s innate capacities are developed and by which the course of social evolution is sustained. The rise and fall of civilizations proceed as the effect of prior spiritual causation. An ancient civilization undergoes moral decadence; by division of its own people and attack from without its power and authority are destroyed; and with that destruction collapses the culture and the religious system which had become parasites upon its material wealth. Concurrently, a new creative spirit reveals itself in the rise of a greater and better type of society from the ruins of the old.

The critical point in this process is the heroic sacrifice offered the Prophet by those who see in Him the way to God, and His official condemnation by the heads of the prevailing religious system. That condemnation, because men cannot judge God, recoils back upon the religion and the civilization itself. They have condemned themselves. In the same manner, the small and weak minority who have seen the Face of God in His Manifestation grow from strength to strength. The future is with them. In their spiritual fellowship the seeds of the new civilization are watered and its first, tender growth safeguarded by their heart’s blood.

Through the Manifestation of God the power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes the will of God. Nothing can withstand that power. Because its work is not instantaneous, a darkened age cannot perceive the awful process of cause and effect—the divine will as cause, and human history as effect—guiding human destiny from age to age.

But the Bahá’í teachings penetrate farther into the mystery when they affirm that in spirit and in aim the successive prophets are one being, one authority, one will. This teaching on the oneness of the Manifestations of God is the essential characteristic of a revelation which represents religion for the cycle of man’s maturity and the creation of world peace.

“There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements of the age in which they were revealed.”18Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. p.217.

Those who deny and condemn the Prophet, therefore, are not defending the divine purpose from sinister betrayal by one who introduces new laws and principles; on the contrary, since the Manifestation in Himself is one, they condemn their own Prophet when He returns to regenerate the world and advance the true Faith of God. Thus is the moral nature of human life, and man’s responsibility to God, sustained throughout the devious course of history. Faith is no mere belief, but a connection with the only power that confers immortality on the soul and saves humanity as a whole from complete self-destruction.

“A man who has not had a spiritual education,” the Bahá’í writings attest, “is a brute.”19‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. p.135. “We have decreed, O people, that the highest and last end of all learning be the recognition of Him Who is the Object of all knowledge; and yet behold how ye have allowed your learning to shut you out, as by a veil, from Him Who is the Dayspring of this Light, through Whom every hidden thing hath been revealed.”20Bahá’u’lláh. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. p.129.

The oneness of the Manifestations has been thus established in the Bahá’í writings: “In the Word of God there is … unity, the oneness of the Manifestations of God, His Holiness Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. This is a unity divine, heavenly, radiant, merciful; the one reality appearing in successive manifestations. For instance, the sun is one and the same but its points of dawning are various. During the summer season it rises from the northern point of the ecliptic; in winter it appears from the southern point of rising. Although these dawning points are different, the sun is the same sun which has appeared from them all. The significance is the reality of prophethood which is symbolized by the sun, and the holy Manifestations are the dawning-places or zodiacal points.”21Bahá’í World Faith. p.259.

The coming of the Manifestation in this age signalizes the termination of a long epoch in human history, the prophetic era in which mankind was gradually prepared for the promised day of universal peace. In Bahá’u’lláh the spirit of faith is renewed and given expression in teachings which affirm the organic unity of the whole human race. Nothing sacred and valid revealed in former dispensations is denied, but the spirit of faith has been endowed with a worldwide and universal meaning.

The Bahá’í teachings overcome prejudices of race, nation and sect by inspiring sentiment of brotherhood. They create not only a pure well of feeling but constitute also a unified body of knowledge in which the power of reason can be fulfilled. They connect social truth with the truth of worship, and broaden the field of ethics to include right relationships of races as well as individual persons. They formulate law and principle which will bring order into international affairs. “In this present age the world of humanity,’’ the teachings declared before the first World War (anticipating the conditions of today) “is afflicted with severe sicknesses and grave disorders which threaten death. Therefore His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh has appeared. He is the real physician bringing divine remedy and healing to the world of man.”22‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p.12.

“The first teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the investigation of reality. Man must seek the reality himself, forsaking imitations and adherence to mere hereditary forms. As the nations of the world are following imitations in lieu of truth and as imitations are many and various, differences of belief have been productive of strife and warfare. So long as these imitations remain the oneness of the world of humanity is impossible. Therefore we must investigate the reality in order that by its light the clouds and darkness may be dispelled. If the nations of the world investigate reality they will agree and become united.”23Bahá’í World Faith. p.238.

“The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His glory, and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His divine Manifestation.”24Bahá’í World Faith. p.140. This knowledge offers to men the substance of the education needed for the establishment of a society worthy of the blessings of justice and peace.

By Elsie Austin

In some future age when history is no longer written to advance the prestige and power of particular groups and nations, perhaps historians will be able to state frankly how much of the tragedy and chaos of our world has been due to the efforts of men and women who distorted civilization and humanity by deliberately provoking animosity and division over the outward differences of men.

This age has brought us certainly to the peak of disunity and bitterness over the colors of men’s skins, their types of work and their paths to God. It is as if the whole human race has been agitated and forced to a showdown over the retention of old ideas of division and the adoption of new ideas of unity and cooperation.

The terrific pressure of conflicting social forces are making it increasingly difficult today for white or colored peoples to avoid the extremes of social reaction. The swollen hatreds and fanatic efforts of those who champion the old ways have, indeed, forced many to bitter acceptance of hate and division as the chief instrumentalities which must govern the development and power of peoples. For colored and white, the importance of rejecting decisively such an idea is superseded only by the urgency of finding and using the kind of faith and effort which are needed for the individual and social victories for enlightenment so essential to this period.

It is not that colored peoples need this, or that, white peoples need that. It is rather that all men, all races, all classes, all creeds and all nations are in need of new balance and new direction for this day.

There are many established and familiar causes and purposes at work today attempting through various types of programs to meet this need for balance and direction. They have taken the best of the old knowledge and techniques and are attempting a revised use of them on either the inner life or the outer life of men. Some are making a bona fide effort to teach the efficacy of the ageless spiritual standards of brotherhood, justice and cooperation, but their efforts are weakened, first, by their failure to meet the complex needs of a complex period, and second, by their fatally compromising use of “accepted patterns of action” which in themselves accent the long embroidered differences of race, creed and class among men.

Others have discarded the spiritual and are concerned mainly with the correction of outer practices of prejudice and division. Their stress is upon the practice of brotherhood and cooperation which come as a matter of law and enforced compliance. The practice of brotherhood, however, is something more than a matter of law. It involves the use of inner discipline which uproot and destroy the hidden jealousies, the secret fears, inner suspicions, greeds and enmities of men. For it is these inner motives which, if undestroyed, sooner or later find a way to make mockery of law and social compliance.

There is in the world today, however, a new Faith which is meeting the desperate need of all peoples for balance and direction. It is the Baha’i World Faith, now barely one hundred years old, but already spanning the continents of the world with a membership which embraces all the known races, classes and creeds of humanity. Baha’u’llah, Founder of this Faith, in a matchless revelation of spiritual teachings and laws gives through religion the desired balance for humanity. It is religion which trains man inwardly and outwardly. In giving the foundations of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah without compromise goes to the heart of the of life. The Baha’is have no rituals, or ceremonies or select group whereby worship may become a formal gesture. Their way of expression of belief is their constant endeavor to work it into the patterns, the standards, the customs of life.

It is in terms of this Oneness of Mankind that the Baha’i world functions with entirely new patterns of effort and achievement for the creative ability and capacity of its individuals. There are no special groups. There is only mankind. Therefore Baha’is do not work and achieve and live in terms of the old hatreds, greeds, and conceits. An individual who accepts the mighty standard of responsibility which Baha’u’llah has established cannot preserve the old jealousies and prides. “All men are created to carry forward an ever advancing civilization.” Each man, then, whatever his background and his measure of capacity, has both a destiny and a mission in life which taxes his best. He must prepare to express that best and to give it with full under­ standing that it is related to the best of every other man.

There are great differences of religious background among the followers of Baha’u’llah, but there is also difference of perspective in interpreting those differences and living with them. The great faiths of the past are not destroyed or belittled. They are connected and unified and those interpretive elements in them which have been the source of conflict and dissension are exposed in their imaginative and superstitious falsity. There is unqualified recognition of the unity of God’s Divine Messengers who have come at various ages of mankind with an ever increasing measure of Truth for the enlightenment and progress of men. In concentrating upon the ever growing measure of Truth and the unity of its Bringers, men achieve true spiritual maturity, for they lift faith and worship above the realm of contentions and confusions over the outward names, forms and systems of religion.

Upon the subject of racial differences the Baha’is have achieved a balance which deserves the study and attention of all peoples. The age-old tensions, superstitions, and cultivated enmities in terms of racial differences are certainly not easy to lose. They have been worked into all the experiences of men with such elaborate detail that they come out unconsciously in thought and action patterns. But these scars and wounds of the past are somehow removed and healed by the loving power in the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. That recognition and concentration upon Oneness captures the heart and clears the mind. The common destiny of men, their potentialities for development as given by Baha’u’llah call forth such inspiration and ambition among His followers that, in setting themselves to another goal, they pass by and forget the old emphases. In the Baha’i community racial differences become normal differences. They are no more a cause for strife, fear, and separation than the color of eyes and hair. In the effort and training for better character, better minds and better achievement each man forgets his skin color and that of his neighbor. The Baha’i pattern is indeed a new and tremendously potential guide for group relationships of men. There is no strained and obvious effort to love white people or colored peoples. There are only people who are learning together the courtesy, cooperation and regard required for an enlightened and progressive society of human beings. Humanity is one soul in many bodies. It is one thing to say this philosophically. It is another to feel it as a heart experience and as a necessary law of life.

Colored or white we need the sort of belief that gives every man the power to give his neighbor deserved faith and credit. Baha’u’llah’s searching analysis deserves careful thought and unreserved acceptance. Said He, ” The well being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity be firmly established. So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”

Colored or white, the world faith of Baha’u’llah offers us the needed purpose and direction for our times. In its creative Truth lies the one path wherein we all may find understanding and will to pass by and be done with the outmoded fallacies, the consuming greed, the shameful injustices and accumulated vengeance which has corrupted our past and crippled us all.

By Alain Locke

There is one great spiritual advantage in the tidal series of negative upsets and breakdowns in the contemporary world and that is the ever-accumulative realization of the need for a complete reconstruction of life. Even among the unintellectual classes and in the most partisan circles the idea of reform and radical change meets no effective resistance, where but a short while ago, any suggestion of change would have met both emotional and doctrinal resistance to a serious degree. And although there is still a considerable amount of surviving partisanship in the notion of specific cures and panaceas, each based on some over-emphasis on some special view or theory or formula, in many cases, – perhaps the majority, there has come the recognition that superficial and local change are alike insufficient, and that to cure or affect modern ills, any remedy seriously proposed must be fundamental and not superficial, and wide-scale or universal rather than local or provincial. And so the most usual sanctions of contemporary thinking even for partisan and sectarian causes are the words “universal,” “international,” “human.” Ten years ago, national, racial, or some equivalent circumscribed loyalty and interest would have been unquestioningly assumed, and agitated almost without apology as axiomatic. I regard this change, although as yet a negative gain, as both one of the most significant and positive steps forward that humanity has taken,– or rather, – has been forced to take.

In this dilemma of doubt and frantic search, many are the gods and principles invoked, and doubtless a few of the many will turn out historically to have had saving grace. For certainly no pure principle can of itself do more than motivate or sanction; mankind is not saved by declarations and professions of faith, but by works and ideas. However, in the doing and the acting, there is always the important factor of the orientation and attitude which are so vital, and often the initial aspect of a new way of life. In this connection, I think, it is of the utmost importance to recognize as an influential factor in the contemporary situation a common trend toward individualism. Even though it is not yet accepted as a general principle, as a general desire and an ideal goal, the demand for universality is beyond doubt the most characteristic modern thing in the realm of spiritual values, and in the world of the mind that reflects this realm.

But when we come to the statement of this generally desired universality, we fall foul of countless nostrums, and welter again in the particularisms that we have inherited from tradition and our factional and denominationalized world. Here, then, is the present dilemma; –we feel and hope in the direction of universality, but still think and act particularistically. And in many ways and connections, it seems that we must. Is there no solution to this typical but tragic situation?

It is just at this juncture that the idea of unity in diversity seems to me to become relevant, and to offer a spiritual common denominator of both ideal and practical efficacy. What the contemporary mind stands greatly in need of is the divorce of the association of uniformity with the notion of the universal, and the substitution of the notion of equivalence. Sameness in difference may be a difficult concept for us, it is. But the difficulty is historical and traditional, and is the specific blight and malady of the modern and Western mind. I take it for granted that the desire and effort to reach universality in the characteristic modern and Western way would be fatal if possible, and is fortunately impossible in practice. Only in the chastisement of defeat will it be recognized how unnecessary and hopeless the association of the two concepts really is. Spiritual unity is never achieved by an exacting demand for conformity or through any program of imposed agreement. In fact, the demands of such an attitude are self-defeating. What we need to learn most is how to discover unity and spiritual equivalence underneath the differences which at present so disunite and sunder us, and how to establish some basic spiritual reciprocity on the principle of unity in diversity.

This principle is basic in the Bahá’í teaching. It may lead us to another dangerous partisanship to assert it is exclusively Bahá’í; but there is no escaping the historical evidences of its early advocacy and its uncompromising adoption by the Bahá’í prophets and teachers. But it is not the time for insisting on this side of the claim; the intelligent, loyal Bahá’í should stress not the source, but the importance of the idea, and rejoice not in the originality and uniqueness of the principle but rather in its prevalence and practicality. The idea has to be translated into every important province of modern life and thought, and in many of these must seem to be independently deprived and justified. Suffice it, if the trend and net result are in the same general and progressive direction and serve to bring some values and behaviour nearer to the main ideal. Through the realization of this, and the welcome acceptance of all possible collaboration, a spiritual leadership and influence can be exerted that is otherwise impossible. And no narrow cultism, however pious and loyal, can accomplish this. The purity of Bahá’í principles must be gauged by their universality on this practical plane. Do they fraternize and fuse with all their kindred expressions? Are they happy in the collaborations that advocate other sanctions but advance toward the same spiritual goal? Can they reduce themselves to the vital common denominators necessary to mediate between other partisan loyalties?

We should not be over-optimistic. The classical statements of this and other basic Bahá’í teachings like the oneness of humanity are on the lips and tongues of many, but almost every specific program enlisting the practical activities of men today still has in it dangerous elements of sectarianism. And to the old sectarianisms that we could possibly regard as having had their day, there is constantly being added new ones that are very righteous in the view of their adherents. Oppressed classes and races cannot be told that their counter-claims forced from them by the natural reactions and resistance to suppression and restriction should yield in the early hours of their infancy to broader less specific loyalties. These new nationalisms and other causes will not listen immediately to such caution or impose upon themselves voluntarily such unprecedented sacrifices. Let us take specific instances. Can anyone with a fair-minded sense of things, give wholesale condemnation the partisanships of Indian Nationalism, or Chinese integrity and independence, or Negro and proletarian self-assertion after generations of persecution and restriction? Scarcely, – and certainly not at all unless the older partisanships that have aroused them repent, relax, and finally abdicate their claims and presumptions.

On questions like these we reach the crux of the problem, and seem to face a renewal and intensification of national, class and racial strife. Is there no remedy?

In my view, there is but one practical way to the ideal plane on which a cessation or abatement of the age-old struggle can be anticipated with any degree of warrant. And that is in the line of not asking a direct espousal of universalism at the expense of the natural ambitions and group interests concerned; but rather to ask on the basis of reciprocity a restriction of these movements to their own natural boundaries, areas and interests. Josiah Royce, one of the greatest of the American philosophers saw this problem more clearly than any other Western thinker, and worked out his admirable principle of loyalty, which is nothing more or less than a vindication of the principle of unity in diversity carried out to a practical degree of spiritual reciprocity.

Of course, it will be a long time yet before the mind of the average man can see and be willing to recognize the equivalence of value between his own loyalties and those of all other groups, and when he will be able to assert them without infringement of similar causes and loyalties. But when the realization comes from hard necessity that the only alternative policy is suicidal, perhaps we can count on a radical reversal of what still seems to be the dominant and ineradicable human failing and propensity to continue the tragic narrow self-assertiveness of the human past.

In starting with the unequivocal assertion of equivalence and reciprocity between religions, the Bahá’í teaching has touched one of the trunk-nerves of the whole situation. But it seems that this principle needs to be carried into the social and cultural fields. Because there the support and adherence of the most vigorous and intellectual elements in more societies can be enlisted. Translated into more secular terms, a greater practical range will be opened for the application and final vindication of the Bahá’í principles. Only the narrowly orthodox will feel any loss of spirituality in this, and the truly religious-minded person will see in it a positive multiplication of spiritual power, directly proportional to the breadth and variety of the interests touched and motivated. The Bahá’í teaching proposed a religion social and modern in its objectives; and so the challenge comes directly home to every Bahá’í believer to carry the universal dimension of tolerance and spiritual reciprocity into every particular cause and sectarianism that he can reach. His function there is to share the loyalties of the group, but upon a different plane and with a higher perspective. He must partake of partisanship in order to work toward its transformation, and help keep it within the bounds of constructive and controlled self-assertion.

Each period of a faith imposes a special new problem. Is it too much to assume that for us the problem of this particular critical decade is just this task of transposing the traditional Bahá’í reciprocity between religions in the social and cultural denominationalisms of nation, race and class, and vindicating anew upon this plane the precious legacy of the inspired teachings of ‘Abdul-Bahá and Bahá’u’lláh? Certainly that is my reverent conviction and my humble suggestion.