And they shall see the Son of man coming
Daytimes the trout stream was a big trout, slippery, dappled, now and then flashing white, easing under the watery aspens. At night it was pale in the blackness. Sitting by the campfire one could only hear it and see a vagueness down there under the bank where it ran. One could not distinguish between the moths brought into the flame, and the sparks flying out, and higher insects catching the light as they passed, and shooting stars, and stars. One could not keep track of these things.
Except that the stars were campfires again. This used to be Indian country, here under the incongruously Swiss-looking snow crags, along the trout stream; here you can still pick up Indian arrowheads of dark bottle-green obsidian, with the hairy chisel marks. When the white man drove the Indians away, they went up there in the sky, over our heads, and lit those campfires. So we have peace between the two again, with the red man up there the winner. His spirit is always seeping back into America, like the blood of the heart seeping back, and it never wipes away. (That time we saw Boulder Dam, the least Indian of all things, we found that Indian patterns had been worked into the massive floors; soft, moccasined, his spirit had come back.)
You would look into the redness of the campfire, and there, standing on its tail and watching you with white, piteously smoking eyes, was the ghost of the trout you had caught in the morning and fried at noon; fried it so fresh that it leapt in the pan.
That particular night something was going to happen, up there in the mountains. Everything was waiting for it. The wind had lowered, the hot ashes fell softly, the stream quieted and the aspens stilled. Now it was happening. We looked up out of our well of blackness to the ridge: the trees along the ridge were catching fire, they were burning, like hair in a nimbus on some old saint’s picture. Flaming hair of trees along the ridge. We waited not moving, and we saw the white fire growing, and then we saw it was the white moon burning and rising up there over the fall of the ridge. Then the night went on as before. It resumed.
Later in the night we went over to the little store on the lake for a couple of bottles of milk. This place is listed on the map as “primitive area,” and it is safely far away from any towns, but even so we were only around the corner to milk “from non-reactive tuberculin tested cows.” That is America.
No moon during the mile’s walk, only the black wind to lean against. The lake was rimmed with a beach piled with tree limbs twisted satiny-white wood that made good burning. We could have sworn the lake was an ocean with China just beyond it, its further shores were so lost and unattainable.
On our way back we punched the dark now and then with our flashlight. Everything was black and quiet. Something was going to happen. We looked up to the hilltop, above the road, and there suddenly was the moon, dawning again, with all the freshness and drama, the ceremony and pause, of its dawning an hour ago, over our campfire.
I had never known before that the moon has many dawnings in a single night. It comes up as many times as there are hills and valleys and eyes watching.
An idea in the world is the same—it has many risings, each authentic and new and especially for the people it shines on. When you describe it, the people do not only hear what you tell them, they get the idea at first hand. It rises for them as it did for you.
The great world ideas are like that. For instance, about the time Jesus rose over England—597—Buddha rose over Japan, 552. A new world idea comes, this time from Shiraz and Baghdad, and it is only beginning to rise, say over the western seas.
“I do not see the new world idea coming out of the East as you describe it,” people comment. It is perfectly all right for them to say this; they are telling you the truth. But then other people, apparently no more brilliant or stupid than the first, do see it. It rises for them, a special dawning for them, and their faces begin to glow with it. It is not only your moon any more, it is theirs too. You don’t have to repeat any more, “See the moon coming up—” or “Wait a minute and you’ll see the moon coming—” They would only look at you and say, “Are you crazy? Of course I see it.”
Back at the campfire, the tamaracks had turned to cypresses in the moonlight. You had to force yourself not to imagine an Eastern palace there, piling lightly into the sky, poised above seven cloudy pools, tiled and terraced, one below the other, one spilling into the other. You had to hang on to yourself not to feel a nostalgia for something long ago that you never knew about; this is much worse than missing something that was once yours. Probably, through a twisting of time, it is a homesickness for what will come later on, perhaps in the world beyond this. Anyhow it takes hold of you if you sit by a trout stream in the summer moonlight.
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.
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.
Religious bigotry and prejudice are chiefly due to religions being viewed as historical rather than as functional events. The followers of every great world religion tend to look upon their own revelation and the institutions built around it as unique in the history of the planet and consequently to deny the authenticity of other world religions. Hence a bitter rivalry has arisen between religions making such monopolistic claims.
When, however, we take a scientific view of a religion as functional in the development of humanity we are able to look not only with tolerance but with sympathy at other religions than our own. Wherever a sincere spiritual force is effective in the lives of a people, there we see a religion which we may respect. When, however religious expression degenerates into institutionalism either at home or abroad, we may know that religion is no longer performing its normal function.
The function of religion is: first, to make humanity God-conscious; second, to make humanity obedient to the Divine Will (this implies today the unifying of humanity); and third, to bring to each human being the understanding of how to make use of prayer and guidance and thus take advantage of the inestimable privileges offered man by the Divine Power in the way of communion and help.
Religions do not come into being by accident. No great historic epoch and no section of the world has been deprived by Destiny of the opportunity to acquire the priceless treasures of true religion. The spiritual evolution of the human race is as much a part of the majestic plan of the Creator as is the evolution of solar systems. Were it not for the instructive, stimulative and inspirational power of religion upon the heart and conscience of humanity, men would remain morally on a level with animals. In other words they would be unmoral, without the refined conscience which spiritual man possesses. They would be creatures of impulse and of instinct, following the law of the herd but not recognizing that as the only law outside themselves to be obeyed.
Religion brings to man a new conscience, instructing him in the higher laws of living which make for harmony, happiness and prosperity both in an individual and a collective sense. Through religion man is enabled to transcend to himself to become nobler than his biologically inherent animal qualities would permit. Through religion he is trained to sublimate all of these animal qualities – qualities perfectly legitimate in their own field but obstructive to the development of a catholic and harmonious human society.
Through religion man is made aware of his spiritual potentiality. He learns that his soul can aspire in the realm of spirit and need not be dragged and weighted down by all the heavy burdens of carnality. Like a young child learning to walk, he begins to realize powers which he can put into practice. In the use of faith, prayer and spiritual guidance he becomes more and more proficient, growing daily nearer to the full stature of spiritual manhood for which he is destined.
Can any one deny that these are the purposes and these the effects of religion? Any unbiased scientific study of the history of religion as a moral, social and spiritual force in the life of humanity will substantiate the foregoing statements.
But whence does religion spring? Here we come to a much mooted question. We are told by the Founders of the world’s great religions that the truth which they teach is revealed to them from the Divine Source itself; that they are but channels for the Divine instruction and power to flow through; and that their word is, indeed, the Word of God.
Such is the claim of all the great Revelators. But the attitude of science during the last century has been to disparage such super-human claims. From the scientific point of view there seems little chance of objectively proving the claims of revelation. The scientific mind can investigate everything in the phenomenal universe, but it cannot investigate the Mind and Ways of God. Here is a field distinctly barred to the scientific approach. There is only one standpoint from which the claims of revelation might be investigated, appraised and corroborated. This standpoint is the field of actual religious achievement.
When we study the force which inheres in every great world religion – a force definite and unique, a force which, while its sources may be beyond our investigation, as regards its workings and effects lies clearly within the field of scientific investigation – what do we see? History shows that every great religion in the days of its purity – before institutionalism and human dogma begin their taints – exerts a terrific force upon human conduct and human character, a force unparalleled in the history of human morals as regards its contagiousness, its miraculous power to change character, and its quality of sustained application to the art of living on the part of the individual adherent. This force of religion is indeed mysterious – as mysterious as is the force of electricity.
Can we reasonably conceive that such a force can emanate from a source no higher than human mentality? Are these Founders of religion simply spiritual geniuses who are but a few degrees loftier in moral and spiritual insight than their fellows? If so, how could they produce these magical effects upon human nature, both individually and collectively? Effects which last not for a day, but for milleniums. Effects which no founders of schools of philosophies, not even the greatest, have ever been able even in the slightest degree to approximate. Secondly, we should have to assume that in their claims of revelation the Founders of the great world religions were either using deliberate falsehood or suffering under hallucinations. Both of these points of view have been taken. Previous to the religious tolerance of the twentieth century it had been the custom for earnest adherents of Christianity to accuse the founders of other world religions as being hypocrites, falsifiers or emissaries of evil. The theological doctrine of the uniqueness of Christianity induced this attitude. But as scientific liberalism made inroads into Christian theology and the history of religion came to be studied without prejudice of sectarianism, it became apparent to scientific historical observation that such characters as Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster and Muhammad were not uttering deliberate falsehoods when they claimed to be channels of Divine communication to humanity. They were at least sincere, there could be no question about that. Ergo – assuming the impossibility of substantiating this claim of divine revelation – certain materialistically inclined scholars of comparative religion, abnormal psychologists, and other secularists were led to the conclusion that these claimants to divine revelation were suffering from hallucinations.
Has not science, in its materialistic scepticism, brought itself here into a ridiculous dilemma? Those beings so pure and sinless in character, so noble in their self-sacrificing lives that no other humans can even be put in the same category; those beings who have expressed lofty truths which humanity has intuitively accepted as a perfect pattern for human behavior; those beings the power of whose exemplary lives and exalted teachings has influenced humanity more than any other force, – can it be that these great souls were merely insane? That their conception of the nature of their mission and the source of their wisdom was not only fallacious but the expression of psychologically diseased natures? Marching these Revealers of noble faith and living against opinions of modernistic secularists, I cannot see how the verdict of thoughtful people can be cast in favor of the materialistic psychologist.
Is the idea of revelation, then, so impossible from the scientific point of view? The painter, the poet, the composer feel that their inspirations come from some source greater than themselves. Plato, the greatest creative thinker and literary artist the world has ever produced, had a definite theory as to where his inspirations came from. The artist, he states, is but a channel for images and truths which come to him from the World of the Ideal. The soul of the great artist is able to contact this higher archetypal world where perfection already exists, and thus bring to earth artistic revelations, creative ideas, and discoveries in the realm of truth. Since Plato was himself such a colossally creative thinker, we must acknowledge at least some importance to this theory of his regarding the nature of inspiration and creation.
Many a great artist, thinker, and inventor since the day of Plato has felt this same way about the nature of inspiration. Their greatest works have seemed to them not so much the manufacture of their own limited mentality as a projection, through the sensitivity of their being, of truth or beauty from some world outside themselves.
In fact, so disparate from their creator are the greatest achievements of the creative soul that he must look with a feeling of awe upon these creations emanating through him and enjoy them in a purely impersonal relation, receiving from them an inspiration as from a force totally and miraculously outside of his own personality.
Now if it is a possibility for any creative person to receive all inspiration from some mysterious source outside himself, it is certainly possible for the prophetic soul of a great world Saviour to become a channel for those Divine Forces which seek to guide and stimulate this planet into higher spiritual evolution.
Not only do these Teachers of religion proclaim a truth greater than they themselves could originate, but they are born into the world already destined for such a mission. Their station is above that of ordinary mortals, as the station of the ambassador of a great emperor is peerless in whatever country he may officially abide. “They are the Treasuries of divine knowledge, and the Repositories of celestial wisdom. Through them is transmitted a grace that is infinite, and by them is revealed the light that can never fade.”1Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Íqán. Available at www.bahai.org/r/077907308
These great messengers of God are an essential part of the Divine plan for the evolution of humanity. Biological evolution has gone as far as it is able to go when it has produced “homo sapiens” – man with the power of thought. The further evolution of man in the way of development of his creative intelligence and his spiritual progress depend upon forces from a higher plane. Religion is this force absolutely essential to man’s spiritual evolution, to the awakening and training of potential qualities which elsewise would never come into active expression.
Evolution now ceases to be a something which operates on man apart from his own conscious effort. Progress beyond primitive man he can make only by voluntary conscious effort. It is to awaken and aid this effort toward higher spiritual self-development of humanity that these great Teachers come to earth. Without the inspiration of their teachings and the dynamic stimulus to spiritual progress which they give to man by means of a tremendous outpouring of that cosmic, spiritual, creative force which has been called the Holy Spirit, man would remain on the moral and mental level of the animal.
“Further evolution, if it takes place,” says P. D. Ouspensky in his “Tertium Organum,” “cannot be an elemental and unconscious affair, but will result solely from conscious efforts toward growth. Man, not striving toward evolution, not conscious of its possibility, not helping it, will not evolve. And the individual who is not evolving does not remain in a static condition, but goes down, degenerates. This is the general law.”
An important point to consider here is that the revelations of religion do not come by chance. They are part of a continuous plan for the spiritual evolution of humanity. They are a special communication and dispensation of that great creative and guiding Force of the universe which we call God, and they are revealed through spiritualized beings who are special channels for the flow of this creative force.
Humanity, like a battery which has to be recharged, is under the necessity of fresh spiritual impulse at stated intervals. Fortunately for the spiritual evolution of humanity, at every epoch when one religion has been outgrown a new religion has magically arisen – a religion full of vital hope and promise and charged with the power to remold and to remake the lives of its communicants.
“In their essence all these religions are one. Spiritual Truth cannot, indeed, be different and conflicting. The aims of all the great prophets were one: to bring human beings into the Divine Consciousness, to advance their spiritual development, and to effect better conditions of organized living.
“Nor can the great Founders of religions be supposed to exist in any sort of rivalry one to the other. Their purpose is one. Their devotion to Divinity is one. Their devotion to humanity is one. There can be no possibility of rivalry between these great Souls whose first requisite is abnegation of self, whose words and deeds are guided by divine inspiration, and whose lives serve no other purpose than to mirror Divinity to man.”2Cobb, Security for a Failing World.
From this point of view it will be seen that no religion is final. As humanity develops, it acquires capacity for new and higher revelations. At the same time that its capacity to comprehend is constantly increased, its ability to lead a spiritual life periodically diminishes (as has already been shown), thus necessitating a regular and definite reoccurrence of spiritual revelation.
Each Founder of a great religion gives warning of this to His followers. He speaks of a Return, and warns them to be open and receptive to Truth when it returns again, as return it must when the gradual crystallization and degeneration of established religion takes place through institutionalism and the natural carnal proclivities of man.
Today it is apparent that all over the world religion is in great need of renewal. The spiritual consciousness of humanity is suffering eclipse. This is true not only of Christianity but also of every other great world religion – Confucianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Muhammadanism. With the normal restraints of religion removed, with man’s spiritual conscience obscured as his scientific intelligence is accentuated, we see taking place a rapidly growing chaos and a threatened disintegration of world civilization.
Clearly the time is ripe for a renewal of man’s spiritual consciousness, and that renewal is already offered the world in the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. Here we find not only a renewal of all the spiritual beauty and dynamic force of previous revelations, but also pronouncements especially adapted to the advanced needs of this day. We have not only general moral laws, but their definite application to individual and collective living. We have a comprehensive set of principles upon which the establishment of a great world order is predicated, and a great world civilization of a perfection such as the past has hardly ventured to dream of.
Of all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, perhaps none is so needed as the clear enunciation which He gives regarding the continuity of religion. As we have pointed out at the beginning of this article, the lack of such realization has been the cause of the crystallization of religious thought and expression and its disintegration into religious rivalries and hostilities never intended by the Divine Power from whose great Purpose for humanity all religions emanate.
Bahá’u’lláh makes clear not only that His Revelation is a renewal of spiritual truth and potency necessitated by the decline of spiritual consciousness throughout the world; but also that, just as other religions have faded and declined, so the religious expression built around His message is also destined to decadence, in the course of time. Thus He definitely prepares His followers and safeguards them against the dangers of bigotry, of religious smugness, and of blindness to the just and verifiable claims of a new Revelator when His day arrives.
How refreshing is this view of religion, which is now seen as a part of the normal functioning of our planetary life, as necessarily recurrent as are the seasons. Indeed each religion passes through its phases of growth comparable to the seasons – its springtime of blossoming and rejuvanescence, its summer of growth, its autumn of rich fruitage, and its winter of crystallization and decline.
And now again a spiritual springtime has appeared, and the Holy Spirit is pouring down Its rays upon this planet with a potency that is stirring everything to rapid motion and renewed growth. And as in the springtime old forms of vegetation, which in their sear and withered stiffness have lingered through the winter, become broken up by the actinic force of the sun and give way to marvelous new growths whose nourishment they help to furnish by their own decay, so today ancient institutions are falling and every old form is yielding ground to a marvelous newness, which, however disconcerting it may be to unprepared minds, is the breath of life and hope to those who can see beyond the present moment.
“…when the holy Manifestation of God, Who is the Sun of the world of creation, casts His splendour upon the world of hearts, minds, and spirits, a spiritual springtime is ushered in and a new life is unveiled. The power of the matchless springtide appears and its marvellous gifts are beheld. Thus you observe that, with the advent of each of the Manifestations of God, astonishing progress was attained in the realm of human minds, thoughts, and spirits. Consider, for example, the progress that has been achieved in this divine age in the world of minds and thoughts—and this is only the beginning of the dawn! Erelong you will witness how these renewed bounties and heavenly teachings have flooded this darksome world with their light and transformed this sorrow-laden realm into the all-highest Paradise.”3Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions. Available at www.bahai.org/r/726404644. Note that the original text has been modified to reflect the newest translation of this work.
Bahá’u’lláh revealed a sublime vision of human history as an epic written by the finger of God and proceeding along an ordered course to a climax, the nature of which was exactly defined before the story opened and the appearance of which at the date ordained by the Author no human misunderstanding nor opposition could prevent or postpone.
He taught that human history throughout its entire length was an intelligible and connected whole, centring round a single theme and developing a common purpose. From the beginning of the cycle to the present day and beyond the present to the cycle’s distant end, one master-scheme is by set degrees disclosed. The stage upon which the action moves forward is the entire globe, with all its continents and all its seas; and there is no race nor nation nor tribe nor even individual who has not a designated place in the unfolding of the Grand Design of God.
This doctrine of the unity of world-history held in the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh a position of cardinal importance. He was far from being the first among the Messengers of God to reveal it. Those “prophets which have been since the beginning of the world” and lesser seers as well as they have given glimpses of it to mankind, or have referred to it in symbol and in parable. It is indeed involved in all the historic faiths of the human race, and there is no world-religion extant which can be fully understood without a knowledge of its truth. But Bahá’u’lláh was the first to lay on it so great an emphasis and to expound it at large and in plain terms. On it depends the significance of his own advent and the timeliness of his humanitarian reforms; and on it turns his teaching as to the aims and methods of Providence in its dealings with mankind.
This scheme is carried out by the power of God’s will and it has its origin in his desire for the well-being of his creatures. Its aim is the training of the peoples of the world to live and to work together in harmony, and to establish by God’s particular assistance a universal civilisation in which all the human faculties shall find at last adequate and complete expression. The attainment of this goal is in the Divine Author’s eyes the opening of the main movement of human history. All previous and earlier events are in the nature of an introduction. They are steps up a long ascent, causes of a desired result. However important they be, their meaning lies not wholly in themselves, but in the fact that they look and lead forward to a transcendent issue save for which they themselves would never have been called into existence.
Secular schools of thought cannot be said to have applied nor adopted any such broad conception of the integral unity of all human history. In past times, truths so large did not find easy entrance into the minds of men. So long as accurate knowledge of distant peoples was as hard to gain as accurate knowledge of past events, such doctrines would remain for scholars disembodied and unsubstantiated ideas. Today, histories of mankind on a comprehensive scale have become numerous; yet those of them which present the complete story as having an organic plot like a well-constructed epic, are probably few indeed.
In the sphere of religion, however, the case is different. The idea that the course of human events is directed by a stronger will and a clearer eye than man’s to a predetermined end is found in more revelations than one. It is said to have been mentioned by the founders of all the world-religions. Though it has not been in any past age of such critical interest as it is today and has not before been treated so fully as now by Bahá’u’lláh, yet it has never been kept wholly concealed from man. There are references to it in scripture or tradition which are clear enough to show that this truth is part of the common religious knowledge of mankind while slight enough to prove that it did not hold in any High Prophet’s teaching the same importance as in that of Bahá’u’lláh.
The general fact that God ordains human events long ages before they take shape on this earth (somewhat as a dramatist will complete his play before it is embodied in action on the stage), was alluded to by Jesus when He said of the righteous in the Last Day, “Enter into the joy prepared for you by the Father before the beginning of the world”; and again on many occasions by the Apostle Paul, as, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. i. 4), and by Peter who speaks in a similar connection of “the foreknowledge of God the Father” (I Peter i. 2).
Muhammad bore the same witness when he revealed that the first thing which God created was a pen and that he said to it, “Write.” It said to him, “What shall I write?” and God said, “Write down the quantity of every separate thing to be created.” And it wrote all that was and all that will be to eternity.
More specifically, Zarathustra taught the gradual perfecting of mankind under divine law and the God-guided progress of history towards a distant but certain culmination.
At some unknown date the Hebrew allegory of the creation of the world in seven days made a cryptic allusion to the procession of world-religions and to the final consummation of God’s full purpose in the Seventh Day, the day of maturity, completion and rest. The seers of the Hebrew people, lifted by inspiration into the eternal realm, would descry some sign or feature of the far-off Day of God, the foreordained climacteric of world-history, and in a mood of exaltation would give utterance to their predictive vision without fully comprehending what they saw or measuring the interval which separated them from its fulfilment.
It shall come to pass in the last days that the Mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established in the top of the mountains . . . and all nations shall flow to it. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.1(i. 2, 4)
The Day of the Lord cometh. . . . And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Lord and His name one.2(Zech. xiv. 1, 9).
Or again Joel:
The Day of the Lord cometh . . . there hath not been ever the like, neither shall there be any more after it even to the years of many generations. . . . Ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord that hath dealt wondrously with you . . . ! I will pour out my spirit and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . . your old men shall dream dreams . . . your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heaven and on the earth. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and the terrible Day of the Lord come. And whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.3(Joel ch. 2)
Confucius, more than five centuries before Christ, outlined in his book, Spring and Autumn, the ordained Plan of History in brief but plain terms.
He divided history into three stages. In the first, which he called the Stage of Disorder, the social mind was very crude; there was a sharp distinction between one’s own country and other countries, and hence attention was paid more to conditions at home than abroad. In the second stage, the Advancement of Peace, there was a distinction between civilized countries on the one side and those uncivilized on the other; the range of civilization extended and friendship between nations became closer. The smaller people could make their voices heard. In the third and final stage, the Supreme Peace, there was no distinction at all among the nations of the world. All became civilized and met upon the level. Righteousness prevailed and the world was unified.
Jesus spoke much of the Last Day (the Kingdom of God as He usually called it) and of its near approach. “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He did not stress, as Confucius had done, the historical aspect of the coming climacteric, but taking up the warnings of the Hebrew prophets He spoke of the unexpectedness of its advent and of the terrible jeopardy into which it would bring mankind. Even in an age so late in history as His, a full account of the development and destiny of the race would have been premature. He kept the fullness of this truth among those things which He had to say to His disciples, but which at that stage they could not yet bear.
But now a new occasion has arisen. New opportunities, new problems, new perils, confront mankind; and with these new conditions has come the need of a new knowledge. He who, before the human race began, fixed the date at which that yet untreated race would reach the apex of its course and attain the maturity of its powers, has now declared that the Date has come. He who, in dim and distant ages long past, solemnly ratified with His people a Covenant and made to them a faithful promise that He would bring them all to His Kingdom in His own good time, has now in this epoch kept His ancient promise and fulfilled the Covenant in its completeness.
This present time is God’s Good time. This present time is the Era of which since the beginning of the world prophets have chanted and seers have sung. Suddenly—unexpectedly—unawares—without observation (exactly as Jesus said) the fullness of the Glory of God has irradiated the globe from the east to the farthest west. The Day of the Lord has dawned. Keeping his pledge, God has thrown open to men a new domain of life and activity, has conferred on them new powers, laid on them new responsibilities; and he demands that they enter as quickly as may he into this new order of existence and fit themselves to these higher conditions.
The nature of those charges which in the Day of God are to be laid upon mankind can be gathered from a sympathetic reading of the prophets of Israel. Those seers wrote—as a great poet might write—with their minds turned towards God and their hearts lighted and warmed by ardent faith. They could not control the vision that was vouchsafed them: they could not complete it nor set it in its own environment and perspective, nor plumb its meanings nor yet count the years which should elapse before it descended from the realm in which they saw it to the realm of actuality. When the prophets are read in this spirit as Jesus and the evangelists read them, there rises into view a clear and boldly sketched outline of those world-developments which from the creation have been laid up to await the present hour.
The picture is one which has puzzled, fascinated and awed the Christian mind. The impression made by the vision upon the seer-prophets was profound. They write or chant in a strain of exaltation which finds its answer across the years in the rapturous faith of the Apocalypse and the controlled but not less deep emotion of the Christ telling of his second Advent. The strange scenes and deeds and wonders that appear in the picture are hardly more startling than the violent contrast of the colors in which they are painted. Here Hell seems to reach out to the gates of Paradise; delusion and enlightenment, despair and victory, the unlighted Pit and the sunshine of God’s own presence seem all to have a place here, and through some purgation of Phlegethonian misery man hardly comes alive to inherit the promise of all ages.
The Event which the Hebrew prophets foresaw was not to be an isolated occurrence; it was one of a series of events; it was the Last Day of many days. But it so transcended all before it as to be outstanding and paramount. Its splendour outshone all previous splendours, and its blessings were so far above all previous experience and precedent that men would live in a new world and would not even remember the former things that had passed so utterly away. So full will be the Revelation vouchsafed by God in the Last Day, so glorious the effulgence of this supreme Theophany that darkness and error will not be able to withstand the impact of its might. They will flee and perish. The radiance will sweep across the entire globe from the east to the west. It will settle and abide in every land. Mankind will become one, and will be organised round a single central authority which it will recognise as divinely appointed. One law will run throughout the whole earth. National distinctions will not be obliterated; the various nations will meet upon a common level but will retain their separate identity. All peoples and races will share a common relation to one another. A Universal religion will unite the hearts of all. Mankind will form a single congregation, their God being recognised everywhere as one and the same God endowed with the same attributes and known by the same Name. The Glory of the Most High in its depth and in its height will be poured forth over the earth; and spiritual gifts, once the privilege of a gifted few, will be possessed by the many. War will be abandoned. The skill of those who made weapons of destruction will be turned to beneficent uses. All the world over, men will be able to enjoy their homes and their prosperity in security and peace.4See, for instance, Isaiah ii. 2-4; xv. 17- 25; Zech. ix. 10; xiv. 9; viii, 20 ff.; Zeph. iii. 9; Micah iv. 1-5, etc.
Such is the prophets’ picture of the world conditions of the Last Day; such—believe the Bahá’ís—are the changes which man in this hour is called upon to make.
Prescient of the crisis and the difficulties that lay ahead, Bahá’u’lláh, half a century ago, with timely forethought, offered to mankind the knowledge that would enable them to shoulder the new responsibility about to be imposed upon them. He not only outlined a large plan of reform, but he explained, with an emphasis, a fullness, and a precision not used before, the brotherhood of mankind and the unity of their development from the infancy of the race to the present time.
History, he taught, is in its length and breadth one and single. It is one in its structure. It is one in its movement. From the beginning of time the whole human race has been subject to one law of development; and it has advanced age after age in accordance with one and the same principle and by the application of one and the same method. Its whole movement has one source and one cause, and is directed towards one goal. The unification of the world, instead of being an afterthought, or of needing an improvised miracle for its completion, is the normal conclusion of a process that has been going on since the race began. Each of the world-religions has its own set place within this vast economy. Each is mediated through a Master Prophet from God by one and the same principle and bears witness to some phase of one indivisible Truth. No religion has been exhaustive or final. Every one admits of development and invites it. If all were under God thus developed, each along the line of its own implicit truth, they would not move farther and farther apart, but on the contrary would approach one another till at last they merged and became one. The ultimate ideal of them all, while not the same as any one of those from which it grew, will yet be consistent with the essence of each of them. It is the universal religion: the fruit and the perfection of all that preceded it. He who accepts it on its appearance will not deny the ancient Faith of his forefathers; he will reassert it, and at the same time will accept all the other revealed faiths of mankind.
When all men know the certainty of their common history and their organic unity, then, said Bahá’u’lláh, on that knowledge will be built the temple of peace and the fabric of future civilisation.