By Matt Weinberg

Technological change is inherent to human progress. Technology, by definition, serves to augment human capacities and in so doing alters the environment in which we act. In a very real way, social reality and technology co-evolve or are co-constructed. It could be said that the industrial and information revolutions have fundamentally transformed the functioning and conception of human society. Further, the relentless pace of technical and industrial advancement over the last century has redefined the relationship between human beings and the natural world. Technology is a dominant fashioner of reality, influencing social arrangements, goals, and assumptions in a way that profoundly affects collective development, individual behavior, and the ecosystems upon which we depend. Its multifarious impacts thus must be carefully scrutinized.

A major idea emanating from current academic discourse is that technology both shapes and is shaped by social, economic, political, and cultural forces. As one writer has put it, A technology is not merely a system of machines with certain functions; rather it is an expression of a social world.1David Nye, Technology Matters: Questions to Live With (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), 47. Automobiles and road networks, power and communications systems, and the Internet are not simply technical systems but also social processes shaped by social context. Technologies can empower us but may also embody or express existing relations of power and characteristics of culture, reinforce social inequities or pathologies, or manifest ideological or strategic goals.2In relation to reinforcing patterns of social inequity, modern technological infrastructures sometimes are designed or distributed in a manner that does not benefit all populations of a society. Examples of strategic deployments of technology at the national level include large investments in space and military programs.  Notably, technology, in the words of one thinker, has become a powerful vector of the acquisitive spirit; it expresses wants or desires—and sometimes feeds them.3Dennis Goulet, Uncertain Promise: Value Conflicts in Technology Transfer (New York: New Horizons Press, 1989), 24. Our technical choices define a social reality within which the specific alternatives we think of as purposes, goals, uses, emerge.4Andrew Feenberg, From Essentialism to Constructivism: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads, in Technology and the Good Life, eds. E. Higgs, A. Light, D. Strong (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 294–315. Our identity and roles in contemporary society are strongly mediated by technology; it is something we create, but it also recreates or redefines us.

 

The Critical Issue of Technological Choice

Technical choices shape the contours of everyday life and give real definition to modernity. These choices take place at the level of societies as well as individuals. The variety of technologies we confront—and the uncertainty about how best to use them, if at all—is daunting. Further, when we consider complex technical systems that evolve at the macro level, such as the Internet, our ability to influence the overall development and deployment of these systems seems quite limited. Nevertheless, because complex technical systems and the specific components and innovations underpinning them are socially constructed, human volition and values define their purpose and impact. We find, for example, that the intentions and values of a designer or of a corporation behind a product are embedded in ways that often are not obvious. So a simplistic notion that technology is a neutral means to freely chosen ends is not tenable. Technological advancement increasingly shapes the moral terrain on which we make decisions.5As an example, the widespread use of fetal ultrasound technology has impacted decision making regarding childbirth.

For many decades, the subject of technology has been integral to public discourse concerning processes of social and economic development. Various objectives and descriptors have been used to define the appropriateness of technology in relation to development activity: small scale, labor intensive, advanced, intermediate, indigenous, energy efficient, environmentally sensitive. 6The notion of appropriate technology, as technology of small scale that is ecologically sound and locally autonomous was championed by the economist E.F. Schumacher in his work Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 1973. Ultimately, the appropriateness of technology is determined by the values of those creating, using, or implementing it. The appropriate technology movement perhaps lost momentum to some degree because the role of values in guiding technological choice was not systematically explored.7Farzam Arbab, Promoting a Discourse on Science, Religion, and Development, in The Lab, The Temple and the Market: Reflections at the Intersection of Science, Religion, and Development, ed. Sharon Harper (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2000), 149–237.

Technological development often proceeds in a manner decoupled from community values and broader questions of individual and collective purpose. In using technology, means and ends can be easily confused, and consequently community goals and requirements can be wrongly defined.8The One Laptop per Child initiative illustrates the failure to harmonize means and ends. While technical innovation allowed laptops to be produced for slightly more than $200 per device, little or no effort was made to develop pedagogical material utilizing the technology. Initial surveys from Peru, where the laptops were widely distributed in schools, indicate no improvement in educational performance by students apart from learning how to use the laptops. Critics contend that the funds used for the laptops would have been better applied to teacher training. See, The Failure of One Laptop per Child, http://hackeducation.com/2012/04/09/the-failure-of-olpc. When the link between material needs and values is ignored, the role of technology as a vehicle for upraising the human condition becomes supplanted by a process that often turns people into passive subjects rather than active users and shapers of technological instruments.

Any tool can be used productively or destructively. But the most serious consequences of technology use are often quite subtle. The rapid adoption of new technology without reflection about possible impacts has sometimes upended longstanding social and cultural patterns, where entire domains of meaning and purpose in traditional cultures are displaced.9See, for example, the case of the Skolt Lapps, Pertti J. Pelto, The Snowmobile Revolution: Technology and Social Change in the Arctic (Prospect Hts, Ill: Waveland Press, 1987). In such circumstances, technology itself becomes a bearer and even disrupter of values; it can cause individuals and communities to adapt to technology rather than use technology to extend human capability in harmony with social goals and mores. This pattern of reverse adaptation, where technology structures and even defines the ends of human activity, is a widespread phenomenon.10An illustration of reverse adaptation is that the availability of SMS technology has transformed the nature, frequency, style and substance of personal communication. While SMS texting is undoubtedly a useful tool, in some respects it has also displaced other forms of meaningful communication or created a perceived need on the part of many for the constant sharing of trivial information. Outsourcing our personal decision-making to algorithms is another example of how many people have adapted to new technologies. Such outsourcing is, in a way, a moral choice; we may be gaining efficiency but at the cost of opening ourselves up to forces of persuasion that distort our intentions. The concept of reverse adaptation is discussed in Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977), 227–29. The choices we make about technology, then, particularly when not fully evaluating their implications, may be at variance with our essential purposes, ideals, and norms. For this reason, as individuals, families, communities, and societies, we must reflect about how we design and deploy technological tools.

Technology can embed values in several other ways. It encourages that primacy be placed on efficiency, which can result in a failure to recognize negative externalities;11The classic illustration of negative externalities is the failure to take account of environmental impacts of technical innovation or industrial activity. it emphasizes a reductionist approach to problem solving, which can lead to an atomistic versus a systems approach in addressing complexity;12A reductionist approach can be found in the emphasis on recycling versus the reconsideration of systems of production and consumption. The former is obviously easier to pursue than the latter. In relation to particular social needs, there are usually different levels of technical solutions possible, with each succeeding solution having a higher degree of organizational complexity and a more formidable set of institutional and economic obstacles. An example would be the development of a mass transit system in lieu of a system relying on personal transport via automobiles. The adoption of the most optimal solution in terms of efficiency and aggregate environmental impacts—mass transit—requires active engagement and assent of the citizenry affected as it entails a different distribution of social resources. and it fosters an instrumental rationality rather than a rationality concerned with overall quality of life and meaning.13Goulet, Uncertain Promise, 17–22. What is at issue here is a general attitude fostered by a technological way of life where technology and everything it affects become instrumental—a means to an end—but the ends aren’t defined. Technology can prevent us from appreciating what is of true significance in leading a purposeful life, and thus the meaning invested in relationships and other aspects of life becomes diminished. In the end, such an orientation can result in an exaggerated reliance on technology where it is easier to diffuse technology rather than effect change in human attitudes and behavior.14An example of this technological fix mentality is the idea of geo-engineering, which involves intentional, large-scale technical manipulations of the Earth’s climate system either by reflecting sunlight or removing carbon dioxide from the air. Many scientists are concerned about the unknown risks of such approaches to alter complex natural systems. See: Technological ‘Solutions’ to Climate Change, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/geoengineering-solutions/. A facile optimism that technology alone can ameliorate or resolve pressing social challenges often only serves to exacerbate the real problems at stake in a given context.

 

The Role of Technology in Advancing Civilization

The concept of human betterment, of an ever-advancing civilization in which both material and spiritual well-being are continually fostered, implies a central role for science and technology and, in particular, an evolving capacity for making appropriate technological choices. Such a capacity represents an expression of human maturation. A key concept articulated in the Bahá’í teachings is that the creation, application, and diffusion of knowledge lies at the heart of social progress and development. In the latter part of the 19th century, Bahá’u’lláh urged: In this day, all must cling to whatever is the cause of the betterment of the world and the promotion of knowledge amongst its peoples.15Bahá’u’lláh, cited in 26 November 2003 letter of the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of Iran. And in a related passage, He affirmed: The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquility of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God.16Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978), 129. These and other statements in the Bahá’í writings underscore that the set of human capacities necessary for building up the material and moral fabric of collective life is derived from an expanded notion of rationality that references both mind and spirit.

While extolling the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition as a higher virtue unique to human beings, the Bahá’í writings recognize that scientific methodologies alone cannot tell us which ideas or norms best advance a specific social objective or competence.17‘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, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 49. The knowledge required to advance social well-being must be multidimensional, encompassing not only techniques, methodologies, theories, and models but also values, ideals, qualities, attributes, intuition, and spiritual discernment. Drawing on both science and religion allows us to satisfy these diverse knowledge requirements and to identify new moral standards and avenues of learning in addressing emerging contexts of social dilemma.18The harmony of science and religion is an essential Bahá’í tenet: …faith in God and confidence in social progress are in every sense reconcilable…science and religion are the two inseparable, reciprocal systems of knowledge impelling the advancement of civilization (The Universal House of Justice, 26 November 2003). Religion is regarded as an evolutionary and civilizing phenomenon addressing knowledge at two principal levels: first, providing insight concerning human purpose, provenance, and identity; and second, informing us as social beings about the essential parameters of social interaction and the very nature of the social order, particularly how it should be constructed to reflect principles of fairness, empathy, and cooperation. As an essential expression of reality, religion is not to be dismissed as an atavistic phenomenon irrelevant to the processes of social advancement. Rather, it is a primary force shaping human consciousness, ensuring that humanity’s distinctive potentialities, particularly its rational powers, are constructively channeled. This sheds light on the full range of capabilities that must be employed in understanding, developing, evaluating, and using technology. In essence, technology is a magnifier of human intent and capacity, and consequently, it cannot become a substitute for human judgment or action.

The term technology derives from the Greek techne, which is translated as craft or art. In this sense, technology is the branch of human inquiry and activity relating to craftsmanship, techniques, and practices; to innovation and provision of objects; and to systems based on such objects. While the term technology is not explicitly used by Bahá’u’lláh or the Báb, we do find references to the arts and sciences, craftsmanship, and invention. Bahá’u’lláh wrote: Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation. Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent.19Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1971), 26. The knowledge referred to here in the original Arabic is ‘ilm. Two principal types of knowledge are alluded to by Bahá’u’lláh: ‘ilm, referring to knowledge gained by the use of reason, investigation and sensory perception, and irfán, referring to spiritual insight, awareness and inner knowledge. That irfán and ‘ilm are deeply connected is underscored by Bahá’u’lláh throughout His writings. For example, He states: The source of all learning (‘ulúm, plural of ‘ilm) is the knowledge of God (irfán Allah). Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, 159. And in a prayer, the Báb wrote: I yield praise unto Thee, O Lord our God, for the bounty of having called into being the realm of creation and invention.20The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1976), 195. The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh were the Twin Founders of the Bahá’í Faith. The Báb was both the inaugurator of a separate religious Dispensation and the inspired Precursor of Bahá’u’lláh. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991), 123. The deep connection between the rational and creative dimensions of human endeavor is strongly emphasized by Bahá’u’lláh: Erelong shall We bring into being … exponents of new and wondrous sciences, of potent and effective crafts, and shall make manifest through them that which the heart of none of Our servants hath yet conceived.21Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts: Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 2002), 1.67. It is fascinating that Bahá’u’lláh indicates that one principal sign of the coming of age of the human race will be the mastery of a particular scientific and technological art: the discovery of a radical approach to the transmutation of elements.22Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1993), n. 194. Physicists have transmuted bismuth into gold in minute quantities via particle accelerators but at considerable cost. See: Fact or Fiction?: Lead Can Be Turned into Gold, Scientific American (January 2014), https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-lead-can-be-turned-into-gold/ . It appears that Bahá’u’lláh is alluding to great advances in the science of transmutation. Natural transmutation of the elements via nuclear fusion reactions in stars is responsible for the creation of the most common elements of the universe including helium, oxygen, carbon and iron. Heavier elements such as lead, gold, and uranium result from higher energy reactions associated with supernovas. The notion that something can be changed into something else reinforces the idea that it is not the material thing that is of value but rather the conceptual insight and knowledge that makes such a transformation possible. This is an affirmation of our primary spiritual identity and agency as manifested by the gifts of creative intellect.23The Bahá’í teachings indicate that we have three aspects of our humanness, so to speak, a body, a mind and an immortal identity—soul or spirit. We believe the mind forms a link between the soul and the body, and the two interact on each other. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 7 June 1946, in Shoghi Effendi, Arohanui: Letters to New Zealand (Suva, Fiji: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 89. The noble and fertile powers of the human spirit can be seen in how the roles of the technologist and artist are in some sense equated and seen as central to the process of social advancement: The purpose of learning should be the promotion of the welfare of the people, and this can be achieved through crafts. It hath been revealed and is now repeated that the true worth of artists and craftsmen should be appreciated, for they advance the affairs of mankind.24Bahá’u’lláh, in Compilation on the Arts, in The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. I (Monavale: Bahá’í Publications Australia, 1991), 3.

In attempting to elaborate the essential characteristics of technology, one prominent analyst offers this description: Technology is a programming of nature. It is a capturing of phenomena and a harnessing of these to human purposes.25W. Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves (New York: Free Press, 2009), 203. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s son and appointed successor, observes that all the present arts and sciences, inventions and discoveries man has brought forth were once mysteries which nature had decreed should remain hidden and latent, but man has taken them out of the plane of the invisible and brought them into the plane of the visible.26‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 359. These words suggest that technology is more than a mere programming of natureand that it serves as an evident expression of humanity’s innate intellectual and inventive power. But He also warns about how this power can be distorted or misapplied. Speaking of the malignant fruits of material civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stresses that human energy must be wholly devoted to useful inventions and concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries.27‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 303. Moving towards more conscious and purposeful patterns of technological innovation that are in consonance with the values and aspirations of individuals and communities depends on both practical and spiritual awareness. There is no question, though, as to the pivotal function that science and technology play in effecting constructive social change and unleashing human potential. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: Would the extension of education, the development of useful arts and sciences, the promotion of industry and technology, be harmful things? For such endeavor lifts the individual within the mass and raises him out of the depths of ignorance to the highest reaches of knowledge and human excellence.28‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990), 14.

 

Mechanisms of Technological Choice

How then can individuals and communities be empowered to make meaningful choices about technology? How do we move from being passive technological users or subjects to active agents in constructively shaping patterns of technological development? Clearly, developing the capacity for technological assessment, innovation, and adaptation is vital to social progress. This requires the creation of grassroots, participatory mechanisms that foster a dynamic process of learning about technology. It entails the creation of consultative social spaces where communities can evaluate technological needs, options, and impacts. Langdon Winner observes that both evaluations of technology and the cultivation of lasting virtues that concern technological choice must emerge from dialogue within real communities in particular situations.29Langdon Winner, “Reply to Mark Elam.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 19, no. 1 (1994): 107. The main challenge in this regard is how to expand the social and political spaces where ordinary citizens can play a role in making choices early on about technologies that will affect them.30Ibid. The philosopher Albert Borgmann echoes this point by emphasizing that our use of technology has deep implications for our essential relationships—as family members, parents, citizens, and stewards of nature—and consequently it is necessary for us to reassess notions of the good life so that technology can fulfill the promise of a new kind of freedom and richness based on deeper human engagement.31Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of the Contemporary Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 248. In short, we need to create opportunities for reflection at all levels of society that allow us to consciously build ways of life that integrate technology into a desirable conception of what it is to be human. And such a conception of human purpose cannot be dictated by prevailing materialistic structures and forces. Making proper technological choices is therefore bound up with processes of social, political, and moral development.

Practices of collective reflection and public consultation would appear to provide precisely the creative mechanisms needed to appraise new technologies in relation to overall personal and community goals. Such practices move us away from simply being for or against technology and instead represent a way for generating and applying knowledge in harmony with basic community aspirations. True community empowerment and learning, the bases of real sustainability, require local communities to define their own pathways of material development and progress. Such active and genuine participation, where practical knowledge is gained by the people most affected, lies at the heart of the Bahá’í approach to transforming social conditions and behavior. In the Bahá’í view, the primary task of material and social development activity is the raising of capacity among individuals, communities, and institutions across all regions and cultures, with the goal of a creating a civilization in which there exists a dynamic coherence between the spiritual and practical requirements of life on earth.32The Universal House of Justice, 20 October 1983, in a letter written to the Bahá’ís of the world, online at: http://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages. This vision rejects approaches to development which define it as the transfer to all societies of the ideological convictions, the social structures, the economic practices, the models of governance—in the final analysis, the very patterns of life—prevalent in certain highly industrialized regions of the world. When the material and spiritual dimensions of the life of a community are kept in mind and due attention is given to both scientific and spiritual knowledge, the tendency to reduce development to the mere consumption of goods and services and the naive use of technological packages is avoided.33Social Action, a paper prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá’í World Centre, 26 November 2012.

Changing the locus of power in relation to technological decision making—or what one theorist calls the democratization of technology that takes fuller account of human agency, needs, and values—has many dimensions.34Andrew Feenberg, Questioning Technology (New York and London: Routledge, 1999). Over the long term, communities need to establish institutional processes for systematizing learning about technology. This includes identifying, understanding, and internalizing relevant community values as they apply to the development and use of technologies. After many years of painful experience, it has become evident that the abrupt transfer of technology from outside a community or culture often doesn’t have the desired effect. Such transfers are plainly not sustainable. The process of harnessing and deploying technical innovation takes time. This is why organizational capacity building at the local level, including collective proficiency in pursuing structured research, training, and deliberation, must be a central component of social development practice.

Stated another way, how does a community learn? Apart from individuals acquiring skills, there has to be a learning process where local groups or local centers of technology are not only absorbing but also generating knowledge. Once a process of this kind begins, everything is possible, including the development of informed technological decision making, constructive patterns of technology usage, and invention appropriate to the needs of communities. As one development practitioner underscores, Disseminating technology is easy, nurturing human capacity and institutions that put it to good use is the crux.35Kentaro Toyama, Can Technology End Poverty?, Boston Review (November 1, 2010), http://bostonreview.net/forum/can-technology-end-poverty .

Examples of such community capacity building and social capital formation abound.36A growing body of research underscores the central role of social capital in fostering economic development, social cohesion, and patterns of public participation. Social capital is an asset, a functioning propensity for beneficial collective action and is determined by the quality of relationships within a group, community or organization. The formation or enhancement of social capital in a community principally depends on the creation of social spaces and institutions that foster changes in thinking, attitudes and behavior—changes that promote collective exchange, learning and action. Research indicates that social capital builds up as a result of discursive or consultative processes in which stakeholders continually work to elaborate a common understanding of collective objectives. Anirudh Krishna, Active Social Capital (New York, Columbia University Press, 2002). In Kenya, the Kalimani Women’s Group, an initiative influenced by Bahá’í principles, employed consultative methods among community members in developing access to safe drinking water for 6,000 people. Public deliberations focused on underlying health needs, invariably leading to issues of clean water access. Through this public goal-setting process, technological options were considered, including the use of subsurface dams—an innovative, appropriate technology. With assistance from technical non-governmental organizations, community members themselves built and maintained dams, and pumping and storage systems. Processes of evaluation and further project planning all flowed from participatory decision-making mechanisms.37See In Kenya, consultation and partnership are factors for success in development, One Country 11, no. 1 (April–June 1999), http://onecountry.org/story/kenya-consultation-and-partnership-are-factors-success-development. This project, like other effective community-driven development initiatives, has demonstrated that technical learning optimally occurs through substantive and sustained social engagement and consultative interaction among key stakeholders. More broadly, mechanisms of accessible, ongoing community dialog can lead to new social understandings and transform arrangements of power affecting community members.38Transforming arrangements of power is intimately tied to social identity and to the primary values of a community. These factors directly affect, for example, local governance structures, the station and role of women, attitudes toward education, and allocation of community resources. Individual and collective behavior naturally change, and in a beneficial way, when attitudes and values become clear through community consultation. Some of the more dramatic development successes in recent years have involved the reaffirmation or redefinition of basic social norms through community dialog—for example, management of local environmental resources or elimination of practices adversely affecting young women and girls. For an overview of the Bahá’í community’s approach to social and economic development, see For the Betterment of the World, http://dl.bahai.org/bahai.org/osed/betterment-world-standard-quality.pdf.

Beyond specific social development initiatives, the global Bahá’í community itself, through its administrative institutions at the local, national, and international levels, has endeavored to utilize emerging technologies in a manner that aligns with goals of collective learning, organic growth, social empowerment and unity. In this respect, individuals and Bahá’í institutions are becoming increasingly aware that the development and use of technological tools must be determined by actual needs, patterns of activity, available resources, and overarching community objectives rather than any potentially novel methods that such tools can offer. A particular concern is that technologically driven approaches, without proper consideration of the reality of the pertinent administrative or community context, can result in solutions that are ineffective or even inconsistent with basic Bahá’í aims and norms. This has been especially true in relation to the introduction and use of information and communication technologies. As the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, has stressed: The capacity of the institutions and agencies of the Faith to build unity of thought in their communities, to maintain focus among the friends, to channel their energies in service to the Cause, and to promote systematic action depends, to an extent, on the degree to which the systems and instruments they employ are responsive to reality, that is, to the needs and demands of the local communities they serve and the society in which they operate…In this connection, we are instructed to provide a word of warning: The use of technology will, of course, be imperative to the development of effective systems and instruments…yet it cannot be allowed to define needs and dictate action.39From a letter dated 30 March 2011, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly. Accordingly, circumstances in which technological devices and systems might distort individual and collective behavior through unanticipated cultural effects, promote efficiency at the expense of relationship building, lead to social fragmentation and disunity by serving only certain segments of a community, or undermine existing processes of capacity building and community building by diminishing the agency of community actors, would be closely scrutinized by Bahá’ís.40For instance, due to the dominance of technology platforms and tools created in the West, content or applications emanating from that source can have unexpected cultural impacts on communities in other parts of the world.  The patterns of communication facilitated by technological tools can also adversely affect the culture of a community.  In this respect, Bahá’ís “must aim to raise consciousness without awakening the insistent self, to disseminate insight without cultivating a sense of celebrity, to address issues profoundly but not court controversy, to remain clear in expression but not descend to crassness prevalent in common discourse, and to avoid deliberately or unintentionally setting the agenda for the community or, in seeking the approval of society, recasting the community’s endeavors in terms that can undermine those very endeavors.” From a letter dated 4 April 2018 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly. The development and use of technology, then, is grounded in essential Bahá’í values and the means by which those values are expressed in actual community practice. In this way, those directly affected by technological instruments become active protagonists in determining how such instruments are applied to local circumstances and needs.

 

Consultative Processes about Technology at all Levels of Society

Experience indicates that taking account of relevant social context and values in conjunction with scientific parameters can move public discourse concerning technology forward. The key is to create settings that conduce to open-minded and engaged assessment of technical issues. An illustration of such an approach is found in the community deliberation processes promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in relation to hazardous waste sites. In the case of widespread contamination of groundwater at Cape Cod’s Massachusetts Military Reservation, stakeholder engagement and consultative processes, particularly the involvement of Cape Cod residents with technical experts, overcame initial community objections about the impacts of groundwater remediation strategies. Ongoing refinement and evaluation of remediation approaches led to community consensus and support for the project, as well as the use of renewable energy sources to reduce carbon emissions associated with the cleanup.41Facilitating A Superfund Cleanup on Cape Cod, Consensus Building Institute, http://www.cbuilding.org/publication/case/facilitating-superfund-cleanup-cape-cod. Although this example highlights a deliberative process addressing harmful impacts of previous technical actions and solutions, the value of the deliberative exercise is clear. Public consultative mechanisms can identify paths of inquiry and knowledge generation that can creatively reframe understanding of issues and thereby expand or alter existing viewpoints and inform public opinion, thus overcoming the tendency to resort to ideological predispositions when dealing with complex socio-technical matters.

 

Technological Determinism?

Even with robust deliberation and learning mechanisms, it can be difficult for communities to exercise control over technological trends and forces, especially when new techniques, devices, or systems originate externally, or if market mechanisms dictate particular technological pathways. For instance, specific agricultural methods, types of energy sources, or modes of communication technology can quickly become prevalent before social, ecological, ethical, and economic impacts within a particular local context are understood. Evaluating technologies can be extremely difficult, as is resisting particular technological trajectories. In a global economy of production, cycles of technological development are increasingly rapid, making it challenging even for the appropriate questions about our choices to be formulated by relevant social institutions.

A strategy of participation and awareness is the necessary starting point in preventing seemingly irrepressible technological and market forces from overwhelming individuals and communities. Even though complex socio-technical systems (transport, telecommunications, energy) seem to have monolithic or intractable attributes, suggesting that technology penetrates society in an irreversible or deterministic way, new directions are possible if societies assess options and adopt different technology policies.42The emergence of demand-side management in the energy utility sector—emphasizing and rewarding energy conservation instead of building more power plants—is a significant shift from a few decades ago. The related integration of decentralized renewable sources is also contributing to the transformation of energy systems. These changes in the United States and other countries have been facilitated by changes in regulatory law. It should be noted, though, that the technology policies of governments rarely give explicit attention to social and environmental exigencies, while social and environmental policies rarely take account of technological opportunities. There is a need for greater coherence.This, though, requires immense moral and political will.

Agency or autonomy should not be attributed to technology, for it diverts attention from the human judgments and relations responsible for social change. As Leo Marx observes: As compared with other means of reaching our social goals, the technological has come to seem the most feasible, practical and economically viable—resulting in neglect of moral and political standards in making determinations about social directions.43Leo Marx, Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept, Technology and Culture 51, no. 3 (July 2010): 561–77. Because individuals and societies construct, select and shape technologies, determinism cannot be an accurate description of how technologies are conceived, developed, and adopted. We should not reify technology but grapple with it in light of essential principles such as moderation, justice, social harmony, and cultural integrity.

 

Technological Prognostication

The issue of technological prognostication, of predicting how technologies emerge and evolve and what their social uses and effects might be, bears directly on the crucial issue of technological choice. It should be conceded that the manner in which technologies evolve and are used is not readily predictable. The history of technology is replete with examples of how particular devices and systems were ultimately used in unanticipated ways. The telephone was initially envisioned as an instrument to facilitate business transactions, but its adaptation by users at home, the so-called sources of idle chatter, fundamentally transformed the telephone’s role.44This points to the key role of users in determining how technology is deployed and evolves. Both creators and users of technology play a role in how systems and tools are utilized.The Internet of today is something entirely different from what its military and scientific creators envisioned. Yet, specific applications can be analyzed from a functional as well as a values perspective and modified in accordance with our vision of a preferred implementation. The proper expression of technological choice, then, can affect the evolution and social adaptation of devices or technical systems.

Still, even with methodical processes of technological assessment in place, it is unlikely that we can discern the long-term implications of technological decisions made now. We can only do our best, using both reflective inquiry and ethical understanding to continually examine how technologies contribute to personal and collective advancement.

 

The Case of the Internet

The emergence of the Internet with its increasing penetration into all facets of human activity—social, economic, cultural, educational, political, and personal—offers a compelling illustration of the complex factors that determine whether technical innovation is deployed in a constructive or deleterious way. The Internet is dramatically reshaping patterns of communication and in so doing is effecting profound changes in human relationships encompassing individuals, families, the workplace, public institutions, and international affairs. Clearly, the Internet, as a socio-technical system, represents a far-reaching advance in the ability of the world’s peoples to engage in new forms of interaction and collaboration, simultaneously contracting the planet and deepening bonds of interdependence. It offers tangible evidence that the human race is now endowed with the means needed to realize the visionary goals summoned up by a steadily maturing consciousness. Viewed more deeply, this empowerment is potentially available to all of the earth’s inhabitants, without regard to race, culture, or nation.45Bahá’í International Community, Who Is Writing the Future? Reflections on the Twentieth Century (February 1999). The Universal House of Justice observes that the Internet is a manifestation of a development anticipated by the Guardian46Shoghi Effendi was the Guardian and appointed head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1921–1957. when, in describing the characteristics of a unified humanity, he foresaw that a ‘mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity.’ Yet, learning to utilize the Internet in a manner conducive to material and spiritual progress is an immense challenge.47From a letter dated 9 October 2015 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly. The Internet, in essence, mirrors social reality, expressing and amplifying contradictory instances of human achievement and moral breakdown: It is useful to bear in mind that the Internet is a reflection of the world around us, and we find in its infinitude of pages the same competing forces of integration and disintegration that characterize the tumult in which humanity is caught up.48From a letter dated 9 April 2008 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual. Its striking and disruptive emergence cannot be viewed as being detached from the aims and norms of its users and creators.

An analysis of the impacts of the Internet is obviously beyond the scope of this commentary, but a brief look at the current discourse concerning online social media is instructive. Statistics tell part of the story: as the number of global Internet users approaches four billion people, the vast majority participate on one or more major social media platforms or sites revolving around voluntary social creation and sharing—Facebook, WeChat, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Weibo, Pinterest, Snapchat, Telegram, Reddit, YouTube, etc.49See: http://www.internetlivestats.com/ . At the end of 2017, Facebook alone had 2.2 billion monthly active users and YouTube 1.3 billion such users. But it could be said that the various forms of social media are now at a crossroads. The enormous social, cultural, and political impact of major online social platforms is now being closely scrutinized by governments, public interest groups, academics, and individuals. Issues of privacy and security, abusive behavior, and false or hateful content are some of the prevailing concerns. The role of these tools in affecting youth identity and behavior is another.50How youth navigate the complex nexus between online and physical realities is one major concern. The presentation of the curated self—involving a focus on superficial and fleeting interests—raises many questions. What happens to the internal self when the external world watches and comments on every thought, every interest, every mistake? The phenomenon of addictive behavior, along with the reduced ability to concentrate and socialize with others among children and adolescents is another emerging concern. See, for example, Jean M. Twenge, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? (September 2017), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/. These issues, coupled with the fact that these powerful services can be manipulated and misused by any individual or group in any part of the world, have served as a wakeup call to everyone concerned about the unintended impacts of technology. As Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, remarked in response to the discovery that Facebook had allowed advertisers to target users using the term Jew hater and other offensive phrases, We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us. One technology commentator referred to this as Facebook’s Frankenstein moment.51Kevin Roose, Facebook’s Frankenstein Moment, The New York Times (21 September 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/technology/facebook-frankenstein-sandberg-ads.html.Further disclosures that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users had been improperly obtained and repurposed by a third party in an effort to politically influence those users has greatly amplified public demands for greater accountability in how such data is collected and safeguarded.52See Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel, Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica Harvested Data of Up to 87 Million Users, The New York Times (4 April 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/technology/mark-zuckerberg-testify-congress.html . In addition, Facebook admitted that most users should assume that their personal information had been scraped by third parties who have exploited certain search features. A challenging aspect of this circumstance is that any remedial actions are likely to be in tension with the prevailing online business model of collecting personal data for use in advertising.53Regulatory initiatives are one type of response to the issue of data protection. For instance, in May 2018, the European Union implemented the General Data Protection Regulation, a new data privacy law intended to ensure that Internet users understand what data is being collected about them and consent to that data being shared. It represents a proactive effort to treat data privacy and security as central variables in the design of technological systems. Whether such regulation will be effective in safeguarding data privacy is an open question. Some observers have called for regulatory policies that go beyond EU rules that would allow individuals to review all the data that a company has collected on them, including inferential information generated about individual preferences; limit data collection for specific purposes and limited time periods; monitor the use of aggregate data like health and financial information; and penalize companies for data breaches. See Zeynep Tufekci, We Already Know How to Protect Ourselves From Facebook, The New York Times (9 April 2018). https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/opinion/zuckerberg-testify-congress.html.

The developments of the past few years have resulted in a palpable shift in attitude of major technology companies from one of we just provide the platforms for free expression and the content is not our concern to one of active engagement to detect and remove offensive, incendiary, or defamatory material. That their own policies on such objectionable content are still frequently violated and not understood by their own staff who make content decisions and that a reliance on technical algorithms to detect problematic accounts or content still requires much refinement reveal the challenges that exist in just this one area concerning corporate responsibility. Particularly deplorable examples include the harassment of individuals, especially women, and the incitement of violence against specific ethnic or religious groups.54See Debbie Chachra, Twitter’s Harassment Problem Is Baked Into Its Design, The Atlantic (16 October 2017), https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/twitters-harassment-problem-is-baked-into-its-design/542952/ and Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match, The New York Times (21 April 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/21/world/asia/facebook-sri-lanka-riots.html . Civil society groups have criticized Facebook for aggressively expanding into developing societies with fragile institutions and histories of social instability, where social media can be readily misused to channel anger and fear into physical violence. As a government spokesperson in Sri Lanka said, There needs to be some kind of engagement with countries like Sri Lanka by big companies who look at us only as markets. We’re a society, we’re not just a market.

Questions of authenticity and integrity also abound. An investigative piece exposed how various public figures and organizations systematically buy audiences and followers that are not real.55This with the goal of giving a false sense of an account’s popularity. See Nicholas Confessore et al., The Follower Factory, The New York Times (27 January 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/27/technology/social-media-bots.html. In early 2018, nearly fifty million users on Twitter and sixty million on Facebook were found to be automated accounts designed to simulate real people; in short, we not only have fake news and fake facts, but fake people followed by fake audiences. This reality has been aptly described by some observers as an emerging battlefield between falsehood and veracitythat will only deteriorate as new forms of sophisticated but counterfeit audio and video technology are increasingly deployed for purposes of manipulating public opinion. All of this diminishes social trust between individuals and between citizens and their social institutions, amplifying forces of cynicism, division, and disorder. Bahá’u’lláh’s affirmation that Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it, as well as His call to the news media to investigate the truth and vindicate it, resonate deeply at this moment.56Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, 37; and Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet to the Times of London, cited in The Bahá’í World, Vol. XVIII, 977. A related issue is that calls for greater media literacy in society are likely to fail to address problems of propaganda, false news, and hate speech precisely because social and cultural identity are primary determinants of how people interpret reality.57The question of what constitutes truth is increasingly viewed as a question about the validity of the sources and methods used to gain knowledge, which for some is a subjective matter and frequently a question of power. One commentator refers to this circumstance as epistemological warfare, where the propagation of any point of view is understood not only as free speech but also as an uninhibited right to be amplified. See Danah Boyd, You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? Data and Society: Points, https://points.datasociety.net/you-think-you-want-media-literacy-do-you-7cad6af18ec2 . The associations and values of individuals, sometimes referred to as cultural cognition, frequently predispose people in how they react to information, including scientific information. For example, ideological identity can determine how individuals understand certain facts such as evidence of climate change. See Dan M. Kahan, Fixing the Communications Failure, Nature 463 (2010): 296–97. It is apparent that, as Bahá’u’lláh avers, everything needs to be made anew: human purpose and identity, values, and all social relationships must be reconceived in light of the essential spiritual nature of human beings and a more expansive conception of solidarity encompassing the boundaries of the planet itself.58For Bahá’ís, facts and values derived from scientific and religious understanding express different facets of a single reality, and thus serve as complementary tools for discovering meaning at the individual and collective level. In the end, knowledge and truth, in whatever form and whatever manner they are determined, must serve a higher aim—the realization of inner human potential, the betterment of the world, and ultimately the attainment of the good-pleasure of God.

The corrosive influences of materialism, moral relativism, incivility, and ingrained prejudice now battering society are not only magnified by online tools, but in some instances are assuming new, baleful forms. Even algorithms and data depicting apparently straightforward social facts are affected by these influences.59As a consequence of intrinsic structural biases with data relating to gender and race, the issue of ethics and artificial intelligence is becoming an important focus of Internet researchers and public activists. See, for example, Navneet Alang, Turns Out Algorithms are Racist, The New Republic (31 August 2017), https://newrepublic.com/article/144644/turns-algorithms-racist, and Will Knight, Forget Killer Robots—Bias Is the Real AI Danger, MIT Technology Review (3 October 2017), https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608986/forget-killer-robotsbias-is-the-real-ai-danger/. Online social networks increasingly express a prevailing ethos of connected isolation and polarization, where ideological or group identity seemingly filters and categorizes every idea almost immediately. The scaling effect of technology, where large online networks allow content to reach heterogeneous and unknown audiences around the globe, can result in context collapse where the intent of posters is misinterpreted or misrepresented.60For instance, exchanges online involving hundreds or thousands of participants from different social and cultural backgrounds would never exist in a physical space. More often than not, online spaces of this type have proven to be socially and dialogically unmanageable. See Context Collapse in Social Media, HLWIKI International, http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Context_collapse_in_social_media. Further, the subtle and distinctive cultural characteristics of different online spaces can distort interactions among participants and undermine individual and collective goals.61Different online spaces have a cultural logic often dictated by the designers of the spaces. For example, some social media platforms encourage immediacy of response and reaction or privilege dominant voices rather than valuing the quality of exchange or interactio Dedicated, more meaningful networks, focused on shared interests or based on local connections, and less driven by commercial imperatives, might serve as productive alternatives.62Customized social networks such as found on Ning.com or dedicated spaces within larger networks committed to civil and constructive exchange as on medium.com offer examples of what is possible. Networks based on privacy and no advertising, such as Diaspora and Ello, have drawn attention but have struggled to gain a critical mass of users. Greater public awareness and some forms of policy intervention by governments may mitigate the impact of the more egregious misuses of online social networks. Any effective policy intervention must ensure national and local community involvement in determining standards for online platforms. Relying on international human rights norms rather than the arbitrary judgments of the platforms themselves has been advanced as a better basis for the development of such standards.63This includes delineating the rights and responsibilities of users, as well safeguards to ensure that freedom of expression is not unduly curtailed. See, David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, How to ‘fix’ social media without censorship, June 20, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kaye-media-commentary/commentary-how-to-fix-social-media-without-censorship-idUSKBN1JF34H. Still, that a few major profit-making platforms have taken hold in virtually every country in the world (Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter), basically serving as information gatekeepers of social reality, reveals technological and economic lock-in effects that are hard to overcome. Approaches to decentralization, such as blockchain applications, some with a communitarian, anti-market flavor, are a response to such hegemonic online services.64See Steven Johnson, Beyond the Blockchain Bubble, The New York Times (16 January 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/16/magazine/beyond-the-bitcoin-bubble.html?_r=0 . Blockchains are cryptographically secure blocks of information linked by a network of ledgers that record these blocks in a verifiable and permanent way. Information within the blocks cannot be altered unless all the ledgers involved agree to the change. This is sometimes referred to as decentralized consensus. Blockchains and distributed ledgers underpin cryptocurrencies, but the real potential of these tools is seen by many to lie in the community-governed, decentralized networks with capabilities that will eventually exceed those of the most advanced centralized services. See Chris Dixon, Why Decentralization Matters, Medium (February 2018), https://medium.com/@cdixon/why-decentralization-matters-5e3f79f7638e. That our attention is captured by these online services and then repackaged and sold is a particularly seductive characteristic of these tools.65Some observers have assailed this practice of major Internet platforms as surveillance capitalism, as most users are unaware that their online activity is being systematically tracked, which, when combined with other personal data gathered by online platforms, allows for highly targeted advertising based on user preferences and behavior. Indeed, the ultimate expression of technological passivity perhaps is the idea that individual users become the product when they provide personal information in exchange for free use of these commercial platforms.66That autonomous individuals becomes so subsumed by technology that they become extensions of technology and consumer culture is a notion advanced by the theorist Herbert Marcuse. See his 1964 work One Dimensional Man.

Moving to an Internet that is less dominated by Western institutions, worldviews, and forms of expression is also of vital importance. Reconceiving how devices and online services can serve the diverse populations of the planet speaks to the centrality of knowledge generation and application as the principal social process of every community and society. Relevant local values and objectives must guide the design of tools and the types of content generated and shared. For instance, online social spaces might be configured to reinforce processes of trust-building and cooperative action characteristic of many cultures. Such a shift could work to supplant the excessive focus on the self which is fostered by popular social media spaces in the West with the more communal and oral forms of expression found throughout the world.67In this regard, user interfaces might be designed to foster oral communication in the many indigenous languages of the world. See Ramesh Srinivasan, The People’s Internet – Supporting the voice and values of billions of new technology users, https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-peoples-Internet-284ce046fabd. The increased presence of such diverse contributions and perspectives would surely enrich patterns of collective learning and endeavor.

While it is undoubtedly true that new online media have been dominated and co-opted by commercial influences and very much reflect the disintegrative and adversarial modes of society, all is not negative. These same tools and services simultaneously offer countervailing examples of how digital media can inform, uplift, and be a source of social mobilization. First, at the level of technological infrastructure, the various open source systems, designed and implemented largely through voluntary collaboration of large numbers of people across the globe, have enabled the Internet to emerge as the world’s most accessible form of universal communication and exchange. More important, the platforms of interaction that this infrastructure provides have led to new forms of social outreach, relationship building and sharing, cooperation, and creative expression. Examples such as the instance of thousands of teenage girls in South Korea networking and forcing their national government to change public policy, the remarkable case of Wikipedia as a form of massive voluntary social production, the new tools of online higher education opening the doors of knowledge to students around the world, the different vehicles for marginalized voices to express themselves and find solidarity with others, and the ability for hitherto isolated peoples to interact and learn from each other illustrate how the Internet and its social manifestations are an unparalleled phenomenon and an expression of a global age.

Where will social media be in five years? Ten years? What new forms of social interaction might emerge? However innovative augmented reality, artificial intelligence, advanced security systems, and other technical developments might be in transforming the existing online experience, the human need for meaningful connection, integrity, beauty, dignity, and higher individual and collective purpose certainly will matter more. Here, Bahá’ís will endeavor to discover how elements of this technology can be used in a way that coheres with the goals of personal and social transformation. Essential concepts such as the oneness of the human family and the nobility and equality of all human beings will guide such efforts. Ensuring equity in how technological resources are cultivated, allocated, and utilized by diverse communities will be an important corollary goal. At the level of human interaction, given the prevailing characteristics of the online environment, perseverance and discipline will be required if Bahá’í standards of courtesy, fairness, amity, forbearance, probity, accuracy, empathy, wisdom, and an impartial search for truth are to be upheld and emulated.68In this day man must investigate reality impartially and without prejudice in order to reach the true knowledge and conclusions. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 75.

In the end, despite the motives and values of their creators and the many unforeseen, adverse impacts on individual and collective life, online social tools can be used constructively. It is human beings who determine how technologies are developed and applied. For many, the physical and online worlds are increasingly merging. If utilized in a balanced fashion, in accordance with primary human norms and community objectives, social media and related technologies can serve to broaden vision concerning challenging social and moral questions, shape public discourse in a unifying way, promote mutual understanding and learning, and emphasize the potentialities and promise of the present moment in human affairs.

Conclusion

The overall vision guiding pathways of technological development and use cannot come from technology itself; it must be informed by essential ideals, spiritual insight, and actual participatory practice that promote the common good. A constructive pattern of technology development, as described here, emerges as a natural outgrowth of community-building processes, where specific technical solutions are conceived through collective identification of needs by affected populations and refined through an iterative process of learning. Rigorous processes of technological assessment at all levels of society provide the only basis for ensuring that technology is used in a manner that advances individual and collective well-being. Raising the capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to make appropriate technological choices is therefore critical, for such choices are themselves an expression of values—social, cultural, economic, political, ethical, and spiritual. In this regard, Bahá’í-inspired models of consultation and knowledge generation offer precisely the mechanisms required to make suitable and proactive technological decisions in light of fundamental needs and mores. Ultimately, as technological innovation occurs within well-defined social, economic, and political contexts, broader societal transformation must occur so that technological trajectories can become aligned with our aspirations and purpose as noble agents advancing civilization.

By Arthur Lyon Dahl

In recent decades, scientific and technological discoveries have rapidly accelerated the dissolution of the traditional obstacles that long separated the nations and peoples of the world. At the same time, with the erosion of cultural barriers, society is undergoing a spiritual transition. The impact of improved educational standards and information technologies is increasing global awareness, and the fundamental unity of the human race is becoming increasingly apparent.

Bahá’u’lláh clearly anticipated these changes and provided an ethical framework in which to address them, but this has largely been ignored until now. However, as climate change accelerates and its implications for the future of humanity become clearer, it may become a driving force for unity since a massive world undertaking is now necessary to mitigate further global warming and to adapt to the climate change that is already underway.

What, then, are the ethical concepts and spiritual principles that are now necessary to transform society in order to make solutions to global warming possible?

 

The Science of Climate Change

For some time, science has predicted that the planet is vulnerable to global warming caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Those that live in cold regions might feel that a little global warming would be desirable, but any significant change in our climate will result in losers as well as winners. The regions which may benefit often have few inhabitants while many heavily-populated and highly-developed areas will suffer. Some may become completely uninhabitable. Change at this scale will be extremely stressful and expensive.1‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a Tablet recently translated from Persian, quoted in a memorandum on Gaia and Nature, to the Universal House of Justice from the Research Department, 8 June 1992.

The problem has its origins in the way life evolved on Earth. The conditions necessary for life in the biosphere are the result of a complex set of delicately balanced systems which are still poorly understood. The atmospheric composition that permits life to exist was itself created in part by the action of the first living things. The earliest plants removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and added oxygen, making animal life possible. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, writing early in the 20th century, referred to this interdependence of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. “Each of these two maketh use of certain elements in the air on which its own life dependeth, while each increaseth the quantity of such elements as are essential for the life of the other.”2Nicholas Stern, “The Economics of Climate Change. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20080910140413/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/sternreview_index.cfm 2006.  Dead plants, both the remains of marine plankton and terrestrial vegetation, were buried and their energy-containing carbon compounds fossilized to produce coal, oil, and gas, while their carbonate skeletons became layers of limestone, locking a significant part of the Earth’s carbon away in geological formations.

Carbon cycles through the biosphere, as plants take up carbon dioxide to make organic matter, while animals and decomposers oxidize organic compounds and return the carbon dioxide to the oceans and atmosphere. Today, the long-standing global balance between these processes has been upset by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—over the last 150 years, returning carbon to the atmosphere and oceans that has long been out of circulation.

The significance of this for the climate is that carbon dioxide, along with another carbon compound—methane, is among the most important greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere in the same way as the glass in a greenhouse lets in light but prevents heat from escaping.

The climate has changed in past geological epochs, with both ice ages and much warmer periods associated with rises and falls in plant cover and carbon dioxide levels. These changes over hundreds of millions of years were due in part to the Earth’s orientation with respect to the sun and to the changing positions of the continents which affect the way the linked ocean-atmosphere system redistributes heat around the world. With the present configuration of continents, a global “conveyor belt” of ocean currents sees cold salty water flow along the bottom from the North Atlantic down to the Antarctic, looping through the Indian and Pacific Oceans and returning as a warm shallow current to the North Atlantic, where the freezing of Arctic ice in winter turns it back to cold water. The sinking of this water draws up the warm current from the Caribbean known as the Gulf Stream which maintains the relatively mild climate of northern Europe. Recent research has shown that these currents can alter quite quickly in correlation with abrupt changes between warm and cold climatic periods.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution powered by fossil fuels, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from 290 to 370 parts per million (ppm), and it could easily reach 550 ppm or more in mid-century. Every tonne of fuel oil burned produces 2.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide, while extracting the same energy from coal produces 3.8 tonnes of CO2. Deforestation and the loss of humus from degrading soils also release significant quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, representing one third of the increase.

While the rising levels of greenhouse gases will trap more heat and change the air circulation patterns and climate, the effects will be highly variable around the world and are not easy to predict. Using various computer models of the global climate system, more than a thousand scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have confirmed a significant human effect on the climate through global warming, and more is expected. While powerful political and economic interests have questioned the reality of any link between fossil fuel consumption and climate change, none of their arguments has withstood closer scientific scrutiny.

The evidence for accelerating global warming is accumulating rapidly. The global average surface temperature has risen markedly since the late 1970s. Nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1995. The models project an even faster rise in global temperature over the next century as greenhouse gas emissions continue. The greatest temperature changes are expected in polar areas. A rise of more than 2°C in the mean global temperature could trigger positive feedbacks that would make major climate change irreversible, and we could reach that point by 2035 if we continue business as usual, with a rise of up to 5°C possible by the end of the century. This is change at a speed and scale for which there is no planetary precedent.

The effects are already apparent. Many species in temperate areas are shifting their distributions, with cold-adapted forms retreating toward the poles, to be replaced by species from warmer climates. Similar shifts in altitude are occurring among mountain species. Arctic species like polar bears that are dependent on the ice are in great difficulty. Coral reefs around the world have bleached and died from unusually high water temperatures. The number of the most intense cyclones (hurricanes) has increased in all oceans over the last 30 years, driven by greater heat energy in tropical ocean waters.

Climate change on the predicted scale will profoundly affect the environment and human activity in many fundamental ways. Food insecurity will increase and many regions will experience water shortages as rainfall patterns shift and mountain glaciers disappear. Rich countries can probably afford to adapt their agriculture with changed crop varieties and new technology, but all scenarios show a severe decline in food production in developing countries. The greatest human impact of climate change will be on the poor, who are especially vulnerable to the predicted increase in extreme weather events such as floods, cyclones, and droughts—the latter particularly pertaining to Africa. Ocean fisheries will also be affected. Already fish stocks in the North Sea are shifting to other areas. As populations are displaced there will be increasing flows of environmental refugees, possibly reaching tens or hundreds of millions, and the related social disintegration could lead to increasing anarchy and terrorism. Natural, economic and social disasters will become more common and more severe.

Ecological systems and species will be severely impacted, greatly accelerating the loss of biodiversity. American scientists have calculated that climate change would cause conditions appropriate for the beech forests of the south-eastern United States to move to north-eastern Canada. Thus, whole ecosystems will shift over long distances if they can move fast enough. In the past, such changes happened more gradually. Birds can fly, but trees cannot get up and move to find a better temperature, and human transformations have blocked migration paths. We may have to replant the forests ourselves.

One effect of global warming is a rise in sea level, due both to the thermal expansion of water and to the melting of glaciers and ice caps. Sea level rise will flood low-lying areas and islands, including many port cities, creating millions of refugees. The projections for Bangladesh show a 1.5 meter rise will displace 17 million people from 16% of the country’s area. If the Greenland ice sheet is destabilised—which now appears to be likely—it will raise the sea level by more than 6 meters. Already some low-lying islands and coastal areas are being abandoned.

The costs of mitigation and adaptation will be enormous, but the cost of doing nothing is already very high and could rise astronomically. The insurance industry estimated a few years ago that the economic impact of natural disasters linked to global warming would reach an annual cost of $130 billion within 10 years, but hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the USA in 2005 alone caused damage reaching $204 billion. A recent report commissioned by the UK government estimated the annual cost of climate change if no action is taken at over $600 billion, or the equivalent of both World Wars and the Great Depression, while mitigating action would only amount to 1% of global GDP.3 Immediate action will be very cost effective, and any delay will raise the cost significantly.

The latest scientific evidence suggests that the worst predictions about climate change may be realized. The Gulf Stream has recently slowed by 30%. If the Gulf Stream stops, the temperature could decrease by seven degrees in northern Europe, limiting agriculture and raising energy consumption. Half of the permafrost in the Arctic is expected to melt by 2050 and 90% before 2100, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Major parts of the Arctic Ocean were ice-free in the summer of 2005 after 14% of the permanent sea ice was lost in one year, and oil companies are already planning for the drilling they can do in an ice free polar sea in the future. Greenland glaciers have doubled their rate of flow in the last three years. The rate of sea level rise had already doubled over the last 150 years to 2 mm per year, and melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now adding another 4 mm per year and Greenland 0.6 mm per year. We may be approaching a tipping point within a decade where runaway climate change would be catastrophic.

 

The Energy Challenge

Global warming is driven by our addiction to cheap fossil energy. Our industrial economy was built on cheap energy, mostly from fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. Transportation, communications, trade, agriculture, heating and cooling, and our consumer lifestyle all depend on high inputs of energy. Energy demand is rising rapidly and the supply is shrinking. Global warming is just one more reason to address the energy challenge urgently. Given the enormous investment in present infrastructure, adaptation will be extremely expensive, with the required investment in energy alternatives estimated at $7 trillion.

Some governments have decided to control greenhouse gases. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, established the framework for international action. The Kyoto Protocol on reduction of greenhouse gases set a first target to return emissions to 1990 levels by 2012, a limited reduction of 5% when at least 60%–80% is necessary. However CO2 emissions rose 4.5% in 2004 to 27.5 billion tonnes, 26% higher than 1990. China and India have doubled CO2 production since 1990, while the USA has increased by 20% and Australia by 40%. The USA released 5.8, China 4.5, Europe 3.3, and India 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2004. Despite its good intentions, humanity is rapidly going in the wrong direction.

Fossil energy consumption is still growing. World oil use is rising at 1.1% per year, with Latin America increasing 2.8%, India 5.4%, and China 7.5%. From 2001—2020, world oil consumption is expected to rise 56%, with OPEC production doubling, but non-OPEC production has already peaked. Oil provides 40% of the world’s primary energy. Two thirds of future energy demand will come from developing countries where 1.6 billion people have no electricity. Energy demand and global warming are on a collision course.

The end of the fossil fuel era is coming anyway. At present consumption rates, reserves of oil are estimated to last about 40 years, gas 67 years and coal 164 years. Geologists estimate the recoverable oil reserve at 2000 Bb (billion barrels). Past production over the last 100 years has already consumed 980 Bb, while the known reserves total 827 Bb and another 153 Bb have yet to be found, so almost half the expected reserve has already been consumed. Production peaks and starts to decline at half of the recoverable resource, because we use the most accessible oil first, and it becomes harder and harder to get the remainder. We could reach peak production within the next decade, after which production will fall at about 2.7% per year, dropping 75% in 30 years. The heavy oil/tar reserves in Canada and Venezuela (600 Bb) equal only 22 years of current consumption. Even without global warming, energy sources and consumption patterns must soon be changed.

Coal also has a significant impact on global warming. The major coal producing and consuming countries (USA, Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, China) formed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in July 2005. Together they have 45% of the world’s population; they consume 45% of world energy and produce 52% of the CO2, with both expected to double by 2025. They have agreed to develop and share clean and more efficient technologies, especially for carbon sequestration, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to provide secure energy supplies. However these goals may appear contradictory when China is planning to build 560 new coal-fired power plants and India 213, although India’s coal reserves are expected to be exhausted in 40 years. Today, one quarter of global CO2 emissions come from coal-fired power stations.

Some hopes have been placed on nuclear power but, at least with present technologies, it is not a long-term option. Uranium reserves are expected to be exhausted in about 40 years. Economically and ethically, the technology is also doubtful. The research costs and development of nuclear technology have been highly subsidized, particularly for military uses. There is a high energy input in nuclear plant construction and fuel fabrication, so it is not entirely carbon free. The risks of accidents are so high as to be uninsurable. Decommissioning costs of old plants are not usually included in cost comparisons; decommissioning the Three Mile Island plant in the USA after a minor accident was estimated to cost $3–4 billion. The UK was unable to privatise its nuclear power industry, suggesting it is uneconomic without heavy government subsidies. No country has yet completed a safe long-term disposal site for high-level nuclear wastes which must be secure for at least 10,000 years, so the high continuing waste disposal costs are being imposed on future generations, which is unethical. While research continues, generating electricity from nuclear fusion is still “40 years” away, as it has been for many years.

Our globalized world has become overly dependent on fossil fuels for road transport, shipping, aviation, tourism and therefore global trade. The energy and raw materials for industrial production, including chemical feed-stocks, plastics and synthetics, come largely from oil, gas and coal. Most electricity generation for lighting, heating and cooling is similarly dependent, as are modern cities and the suburban lifestyle. Fossil energy is behind our mechanized agriculture, fertilizers and pesticides, and the whole system of food processing and distribution. What happens when these become much more expensive? The business community is so concerned that the Carbon Disclosure Project representing more than half the world’s invested assets has invited 2,100 companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.

More worryingly, the world’s population has increased six-fold, exactly in parallel with oil production. Can we maintain such a high world population without the subsidy represented by cheap fossil energy? What will happen if we cannot?

There is also the question that energy planners never ask: even if we could exploit every fossil fuel reserve, can we really afford to cause so much global warming? Burning all extractable fossil fuels would raise CO2 in the atmosphere to well over 750 ppm. The ethical challenges of this situation are profound. On the one hand, the selfish desire of a minority of the world population to maintain a materially excessive civilization despite the enormous damage it is causing and the threat this represents for future generations is contrary to basic principles of justice and equity. The poor have every right to demand the same standard of living as the rich, but the planet cannot support present consumption, not to mention any increase. On the other hand, if a reduction in fossil fuel availability and use causes food production and distribution to collapse or become unaffordable, pushing many to starvation, this is equally unthinkable.

Energy is so fundamental to human welfare and civilization that we clearly cannot do without it, but there could be much more moderation and efficiency in its utilization. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote in 1936 that the world federal system anticipated in the Bahá’í teachings, will “consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations. . . The economic resources of the world will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized. . .” This system will exploit “all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet.”3See UK Meteorological Office. 2005. Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change. Quoted in UNEP Finance Initiative Bulletin 47, February 2006. http://www.unepfi.org/ebulletin/ It will clearly be an aim of such a civilization to develop forms of renewable energy, in environmentally appropriate ways. These energy sources are mostly low density and widely distributed, which would suggest that future communities will be smaller and more wide-spread, unlike the urban concentrations of today. Given the moral unacceptability of the alternatives, the only responsible approach to the energy challenge is to replace fossil fuels with alternative renewable energy sources as rapidly as is humanly possible. The United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office has said that “the biggest obstacles to the take up of technologies such as renewable sources of energy and “clean coal” lie in vested interests, cultural barriers to change and simple lack of awareness.”4See UK Meteorological Office. 2005. Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change. Quoted in UNEP Finance Initiative Bulletin 47, February 2006. http://www.unepfi.org/ebulletin/

With the present size of the global population, the consequences of going back to the world as it was before fossil fuels are unacceptable. The urgent challenge is to rethink civilization in a new and more sustainable way, and to begin the transition as rapidly as possible. This is where the principles of the Bahá’í Faith can suggest some ways forward.

 

The Ethical Implications of Climate Change

The world’s present institutions have failed to address adequately the threat of climate change. No politician has been willing to sacrifice the short-term economic welfare of his or her country, even while agreeing that sustainability is essential in the long term. Furthermore, the deep social, economic, and political divisions within societies and between countries prevent united action in the common interest. Global warming is just one symptom of the fundamental imbalances in our world and of the failure of our systems of governance to resolve the most critical challenges of our age.

We must recognize the failure of our present economic system to address global long-term issues like global warming. Economic thinking is challenged by the environmental crisis—including global warming. The belief that there is no limit to nature’s capacity to fulfil any demand made on it is demonstrably false. A culture which attaches absolute value to expansion, to acquisition, and to the satisfaction of people’s wants must recognise that such goals are not, by themselves, realistic guides to policy. Economic decision-making tools cannot deal with the fact that most of the major challenges are global.5See Bahá’í International Community, Office of Public Information. The Prosperity of Humankind. (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1995).

Climate change is a consequence of the present self-centred materialism of our economic paradigm. The materialistic view became the dominant interpretation of reality in the early 20th century. Through rational experimentation and discourse, humanity thought it had solved all issues related to human governance and development. Dogmatic materialism captured all significant centres of power and information at the global level, ensuring that no competing voices could challenge projects of world wide economic exploitation. Yet not even the most idealistic motives can correct materialism’s fundamental flaws. Since World War II, development has been our largest collective undertaking, with a humanitarian motivation matched by enormous material and technological investment. While it has brought impressive benefits, it has nevertheless failed to narrow the gap between the small segment of modern society and the vast populations of the poor. The gap has widened into an abyss.

Consumerism drives much of the emission of greenhouse gases. Materialism’s gospel of human betterment has produced today’s consumer culture in pursuit of ephemeral goals. For the small minority of people who can afford them, the benefits it offers are immediate, and the rationale unapologetic. The breakdown of traditional morality has led to the triumph of animal impulse, as instinctive and blind as appetite. Selfishness has become a prized commercial resource; falsehood reinvents itself as public information; greed, lust, indolence, pride—even violence—acquire not merely broad acceptance but social and economic value. Yet material comforts and acquisitions have been drained of meaning. In the USA the indicators of human welfare and satisfaction have been diminishing since the 1960s. The economy may be richer, but people are not happier. This self-centred, hedonistic culture of the rich, now spreading around the world, refuses to acknowledge its primary responsibility for global warming. The challenge, then, is fundamentally a spiritual one, necessitating a change in the understanding of humanity’s nature and purpose.

What role can religion play in the challenges of today, including global warming? We used to be relatively content living within the limited perspective of our own communities, but now we can closely observe developments all around the world. We know about the extreme differences and injustices and we can no longer tolerate them. This progressive globalizing of human experience increases the stresses of modern life. There is a loss of faith in the certainties of materialism as its negative impacts become apparent. At the same time there is a lack of faith in traditional religion and a failure to find guidance within them for living with modernity. Yet, it would appear that it is an inherent characteristic of the human experience to understand the purpose of existence. This has led to an unexpected resurgence of religion, built upon a groundswell of anxiety and discontent with spiritual emptiness. People lacking in hope are readily attracted to radical, intolerant, fanatical movements. As a result, the world is in the grip of irreconcilable religious antipathies, a situation which paralyses our ability to address global challenges including climate change.

Humanity can choose to conduct “business as usual” in its materialistic way, ignoring the future. The consequences however will soon catch up with us. We can retreat into a fortress of old values, but the pressures of globalization will make this untenable. The alternative is to make the effort to transition towards a unified world civilization based on equity and sustainability, drawing on the complementary strengths of both science and religion. This is the approach that the Bahá’í Faith has championed for more than a hundred years.

Unity is the essential prerequisite for action to remove the barriers to collaboration on global warming. In its 1995 statement, The Prosperity of Humankind, the Bahá’í International Community observed:

“The bedrock of a strategy that can engage the world’s population in assuming responsibility for its collective destiny must be the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. Deceptively simple in popular discourse, the concept that humanity constitutes a single people presents fundamental challenges to the way that most of the institutions of contemporary society carry out their functions. Whether in the form of the adversarial structure of civil government, the advocacy principle informing most of civil law, a glorification of the struggle between classes and other social groups, or the competitive spirit dominating so much of modern life, conflict is accepted as the mainspring of human interaction. It represents yet another expression in social organisation of the materialistic interpretation of life that has progressively consolidated itself over the past two centuries. . .. Only so fundamental a reorientation can protect them, too, from the age-old demons of ethnic and religious strife. Only through the dawning consciousness that they constitute a single people will the inhabitants of the planet be enabled to turn away from the patterns of conflict that have dominated social organisation in the past and begin to learn the ways of collaboration and conciliation. “The well-being of mankind,” Bahá’u’lláh writes, “its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”6See World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission): Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Only by agreeing that we are a single human race and live on one planet can we create the ethical and moral basis for addressing a challenge such as climate change.

Some governments have already agreed. They promote the concept of sustainable development as one that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.7Bahá’í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue (Lambeth Palace, London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 18–19 February 1998).  The nations of the world have repeatedly accepted this as a goal and priority. This is precisely the challenge of climate change. With high fossil energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, we are precipitating damage to our planetary system that will compromise future generations. Governments have agreed they have to act but, faced with a paralysis of will, they do not.

Expressed by the Bahá’í International Community, sustainability is fundamentally an ethical concept. We, the human race, are trustees, or stewards, of the planet’s vast resources and biological diversity. We must learn to make use of the earth’s natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time. This requires full consideration of the potential environmental consequences of all development activities. We must temper our actions with moderation and humility, and recognize that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. This requires a deep understanding of the natural world and its role in humanity’s collective development both material and spiritual. Sustainable environmental management is not a discretionary commitment we can weigh against other competing interests. It is a fundamental responsibility that must be shouldered, a pre-requisite for spiritual development as well as our physical survival.8Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1952). pp. 342–343.

Sustainability requires the rethinking of economics. The present economic system is unsustainable and not meeting human needs or able to respond adequately to global warming. Fifty years of economic development, despite some progress, has failed to meet its objectives. The global economic system lacks the supra-national governance necessary to address such global issues. It is not the mechanisms of economics that are at fault, but its values. Economics has ignored the broader context of humanity’s social and spiritual existence, resulting in corrosive materialism in the world’s more economically advantaged regions (driving global warming), and persistent conditions of deprivation among the masses of the world’s peoples. Economics should serve people’s needs; societies should not be expected to reformulate themselves to fit economic models. The ultimate function of economic systems should be to equip the peoples and institutions of the world with the means to achieve the real purpose of development: that is, the cultivation of the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness.

What values do we need for an economic system able to accept responsibility for and address global warming? The goal of wealth creation should be to make everyone wealthy. Society needs new value-based economic models that aim to create a dynamic, just and thriving social order which should be strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature. It should provide meaningful employment and help to eradicate poverty in the world.

All religions teach the “Golden Rule,” namely, to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Should a minority of high energy consumers have the right to cause such damage to others and to future generations? Many faith-based organisations are drawing increasing attention to the ethical implications of excessive consumerism and one of its impacts, climate change.

Justice and equity will be essential to achieve unity of action at the global level. It is unjust to sacrifice the well-being of the generality of humankind—and even of the planet itself—to the advantages which technological breakthroughs can make available to privileged minorities. Only development programmes that are perceived as meeting their needs and as being just and equitable in objective can hope to engage the commitment of the masses of humanity, upon whom implementation depends. The same is true of action to reduce global warming.

Solidarity is another essential value in times of rapid change, when many will become victims of climate perturbations and natural disasters. The poor are the most vulnerable to climate change and the least able to protect themselves. We should consider every human being as a trust of the whole, and recognize that both governments and individuals share this responsibility. Voluntary giving is more meaningful and effective than forced redistribution.

Trustworthiness will also become increasingly important. Trust is the basis for all economic and social interaction. Public opinion surveys show little trust in politicians and business, key actors in this area. The repeated failure of governments to respect the commitments that they have made has not helped. Re-establishing trust will have to be part of the solution to global warming, a solution in which everyone will have to make sacrifices.

Originally published in The Bahá’í World 1997–98, this article, the revised text of a presentation given by Farzam Arbab, explores the relationship between science and religion as two great systems of knowledge that have a vital social role to play in the building of a world civilization.

Throughout history, humanity has depended upon science and religion as the two principal knowledge systems that have propelled the advancement of civilization, guided its development, and channeled its intellectual and moral powers. The methods of science have allowed humanity to construct a coherent understanding of the laws and processes governing physical reality, and, to a certain degree, the workings of society itself, while the insights of religion have provided understanding relating to the deepest questions of human purpose and action.

The social role of knowledge as it relates to the building of a world civilization is of immense importance. In this context, the relation between science and religion, the two great systems of knowledge, assumes vital significance, as do issues surrounding the acquisition of knowledge by the individual, since according to the Bahá’í viewpoint, the highest goal of the individual is to be a source of social good.

 

Material and Spiritual Civilization

According to the Bahá’í teachings, there are two facets to civilization: material and spiritual. Bahá’ís believe that for humanity to prosper these must be balanced. Adherence to a strictly materialistic viewpoint requires trying to understand civilization in terms of material complexity in the collective existence of the human species. In this paradigm, the complex structures of atoms and molecules and their interactions that constitute a human being and create in it the potentialities of the mind are seen as preludes to, or building blocks of, more complex entities such as the family, the group, the community, and society. When these higher collective structures come into being, they are viewed as having the potential of certain patterns of behavior associated with civilization.

The materialistic line of thinking, regardless of how many humanistic concepts are introduced into it, dictates acceptance of the idea that the force that pushes humanity towards these higher levels of organization—and, therefore, towards civilization—is the imperative to survive. Somehow the genetic code of every human being (itself the product of physical evolution) contains instructions that oblige the individual to work for the survival of humanity as a species. Thus, the various manifestations of civilization are explained in terms of their intrinsic value for survival, whether now or at some time in the distant past during some stage of evolution. The fact that human beings are attracted, for example, to beautiful works of art—indeed, the very fact that the concept of beauty exists in human thought—is the result of its utility somewhere in the process of physical evolution. In other words, being able to think the concept of beauty and react to it in certain ways must have given some members of the species advantages in the struggle for survival over others who were not able to do so.

Within a worldview of this kind, it would be hard to grant knowledge a transcendental value that would not finally be reducible to some kind of material utility. It is not surprising, then, that as society becomes more and more materialistic, knowledge is increasingly regarded essentially as a commodity. While receiving the highest praise in an age proudly associated with its expansion, knowledge is more and more identified with information, and its generation and application are increasingly ruled by the exigencies of economic growth. This process of production and consumption of goods and services is considered central to humanity’s collective existence and progress.

The Bahá’í view of civilization is very different. Just as the individual has both a spiritual and a material nature, civilization is seen as having two similar aspects. It is an expression of humanity’s collective existence, the spiritual dimension of which is greater than and gives purpose to its material dimension. The Bahá’í writings state that both the life of the individual and that of humanity as a species have a purpose beyond mere existence and survival. The purpose of the individual’s life is to know and worship God, and the purpose of humanity’s collective life is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.

It is reasonable to believe that the generation and application of knowledge is the central process that propels the advancement of spiritual and material civilization. Furthermore, it can be affirmed that this knowledge is basically organized in two great systems: religion and science. Neither is static; one progresses through revelation and the other through scientific investigation. The writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shed light on this subject, as seen in the following passage:

Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books. Briefly, it is demonstrable that in this life, both outwardly and inwardly the mightiest of structures, the most solidly established, the most enduring, standing guard over the world, assuring both the spiritual and the material perfections of mankind, and protecting the happiness and the civilization of society is religion.1The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1994), 71–72.

Further, He says:

Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness.

Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and nonprogressive, it is without the divine life; it is dead.2The 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, 1982), 140.

About science, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states:

All the powers and attributes of man are human and hereditary in origin—outcomes of nature’s processes—except the intellect, which is supernatural. Through intellectual and intelligent inquiry science is the discoverer of all things. It unites present and past, reveals the history of bygone nations and events, and confers upon man today the essence of all human knowledge and attainment throughout the ages. By intellectual processes and logical deductions of reason, this superpower in man can penetrate the mysteries of the future and anticipate its happenings.

Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created beings embody the potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment. God has created or deposited this love of reality in man. The development and progress of a nation is according to the measure and degree of that nation’s scientific attainments. Through this means its greatness is continually increased, and day by day the welfare and prosperity of its people are assured.3Ibid., 49.

In sum, religion and science are the two knowledge systems that hold together the foundations of civilization. They are two forces that propel the advancement of civilization. They are two sets of practices that draw upon the higher powers of the human soul and must be in harmony. Understanding the nature of this harmony is essential if humanity is to generate and apply the kind of knowledge that will advance civilization in both its material and spiritual dimensions.

 

The Standard of Measurement

In a passage describing some of the gifts that God has vouchsafed unto humanity, such as understanding and vision, Bahá’u’lláh states:

These gifts are inherent in man himself. That which is preeminent above all other gifts, is incorruptible in nature, and pertaineth to God Himself, is the gift of Divine Revelation. Every bounty conferred by the Creator upon man, be it material or spiritual, is subservient unto this. It is, in its essence, and will ever so remain, the Bread which cometh down from Heaven. It is God’s supreme testimony, the clearest evidence of His truth, the sign of His consummate bounty, the token of His all-encompassing mercy, the proof of His most loving providence, the symbol of His most perfect grace. He hath, indeed, partaken of this highest gift of God who hath recognized His Manifestation in this Day.4Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1994), 195.

In the Bahá’í view, divine revelation is the standard by which all understanding and all knowledge will finally have to be measured. It encompasses the knowledge of all reality and stands above the judgement of human beings, whatever the degree of their attainments. As Bahá’u’lláh says in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, His Most Holy Book:

Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it.5The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1993), 56–57.

When religion, as a system of knowledge and practices pertaining to human beings, is in conformity with divine revelation and is not contaminated by elements such as superstition, speculation or emotionalism, then it is true religion and illuminates human understanding. It guards the individual against arrogance and conceit, which can turn knowledge into a barrier between him and God. In that way, the spirit of religion illuminates science and protects it from becoming dogmatic materialism.

Human understanding of divine revelation, as distinct from revelation itself, is innately limited, however, and can be mistaken. Religious belief held by individuals and communities needs, therefore, to be carefully examined in the light of scientific truth and of reason. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that religion must be reasonable and that every religion which is not in accordance with established science is superstition.6Promulgation of Universal Peace, 63. Bahá’u’lláh warns that the study of religion should not result in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry and explains that the literal interpretation of divine texts when a spiritual meaning is intended leads to false imaginings and to straying from the infinite mercy of Providence. Thus, in the same way that religion protects science from turning into materialistic dogma, science protects religion from turning into superstition.

Not all conceptions of science and religion hold these two systems to be in harmony, however. The present widespread belief in the intrinsic conflict between science and religion arose at a time in the history of Christendom when conceptions of science and religion were highly inadequate. Bahá’ís believe that a new concept of religion was given to humanity by Bahá’u’lláh, necessitating a reformulation of previously held ideas; similarly, popular notions about science should be informed by the latest developments in the field and by advances in the philosophy and history of science.

Widely held perceptions of science are based on notions that have, in recent decades, been proven either wrong or extremely inadequate. These notions are held not only by the majority of the world’s peoples, who see the magical results of scientific progress, but also by those who are engaged in narrow scientific activity without feeling the necessity to reflect in any depth on the nature of science and its offspring, modern technology. Many of these notions fall within a category that has been called naïve inductivism.

According to these perceptions, science begins with observation of things and occurrences. With an unprejudiced mind and with absolute objectivity scientists faithfully record what they experience through their senses. The resulting observation statements form the basis from which the laws and theories of science can be derived.

The immediate results of observation are singular statements, which refer to particular events at particular times. When enough such statements are gathered on the basis of repeated observations, it is claimed, one can arrive at universal statements through a process of generalization that is entirely logical.

In order for such generalizations to be considered legitimate by the inductivist, a large number of observation statements must form the basis of each generalization, the observations must be repeated under a wide variety of conditions, and no observation statement should be found that contradicts the derived universal statement.

Induction—the process of going from a sufficiently large number of singular statements to universal statements—is not, however, ruled entirely by the laws of logic, contrary to what is often believed. Its shortcomings are encapsulated in the story about the turkey that was fed every day at 8 a.m. On 23 December, it decided that its observations were large enough in number to justify the conclusion reached by induction that it would always be fed at 8 a.m. Two days later it was being served to a happy group of people as part of their Christmas dinner.

Not even the popular view of science, of course, is so naïve as to depend on induction alone. With laws and theories at their disposal, scientists can derive from them various consequences that serve as explanations and predictions. These predictions and explanations are made through the process of deduction whose rationality, unlike that of induction, no one questions. For example, from the laws of planetary motion the existence of a new planet may be predicted, which, in turn, gives rise to new opportunities for experimentation that strengthen the existing theory or ask for its modification.

According to these views, then, scientific knowledge is built entirely upon observation. As the number of facts established by observation and experiment grows, and as the facts become refined through improvements in observational and experimental skills, more and more laws and theories of increasing generality and scope are constructed. The growth of science is thus continuous and cumulative.

Explanations of science such as this have led the world to the conviction that scientific knowledge is proven knowledge—objective and free of personal opinions, preferences and speculative imaginings. As objectively proven, it is therefore reliable. Language, however, can trick the thought processes. Objective, proven, and reliable are not value-free words. Gradually they become synonymous with indisputably true, and science says becomes the final arbiter of every argument. As a consequence, science is regarded as the only source of indisputable truth; every other source of knowledge becomes less valuable, less reliable—and then valueless and unreliable. Under such conditions, who would dare to raise religion to a level at which it could be compared with science, and, further, who would dare to speak of harmony between science and religion?

Such perceptions of science are rudimentary at best. They do not stand the test of historical evidence, nor can they stand up to the results of innumerable observations made of scientific practice itself. For these reasons they must be left behind as early attempts to understand the scientific enterprise—attempts that, because they led to valuable insights, became popularized too quickly and gave rise to a general misconception of the nature of science.

 

Beyond Induction and Deduction

There are, of course, more sophisticated views of science and more valid explanations of the process of scientific investigation. Science, as a vast system of knowledge and activity, is made up of numerous components, including elements that are articles of faith—faith in the existence of order in the universe and in the ability of the human mind to make sense of that order and express it in a precise language. In the words of Einstein, …those individuals to whom we owe the greatest achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge.

In addition to observation statements, inductive conclusions, and deductive conclusions, another component of the science system consists of assumptions, some of which defy any attempt to be logically proven. They are simply acceptable to human reason and derive their value from the success of the models and theories to which they give rise. For example, for centuries people assumed that the laws governing objects on earth were different from laws governing heavenly bodies. The theories that were based on this assumption proved inadequate, and today one basic assumption of science is that gravity governs the behavior of space, time and matter everywhere in the universe. For the time being, the theories that are based on this assumption seem to explain whatever has been observed, justifying its widespread acceptance.

The practice of science also calls for spiritual qualities such as love for beauty, commitment to veracity, and honesty, and is dependent on such faculties of the human soul as intuition, creativity, and imagination, which are discounted by naïve perceptions of science. This does not mean that science is not rational, for the results of the application of these faculties must finally pass the tests of rationality.

Among the other components of science are the following: a highly complex language that seeks to be rational, unambiguous, and objective; mental processes such as the previously mentioned induction and deduction, as well as the construction of concepts, models and theories; rules and methods of observation that depend on the senses but are highly influenced by theory; and methods suitable to each object of study. Furthermore, scientific activity is carried out within specific research programs by scientific communities that exhibit the many complex types of behavior characteristic of communities of human beings.

Given all of these elements, the complexity and intricacy of the scientific enterprise and the need to abandon simplistic and mechanical explanations of the processes of science should be clear. This does not mean that science is haphazard and devoid of truth, or that scientific practice is arbitrary and driven by thirst for power and control as some would claim in this postmodern era. Science is a mighty system, highly structured and intimately connected to reality—a reality that exists and is not the product of imagination.

With an expanded, more comprehensive view of science, it is possible to approach the question of harmony between science and religion with little difficulty. Religion and science are clearly not the same, or it would be absurd to talk about harmony between them. But while statements about the two systems differ, everything said about science has a parallel in a similar description of religion. The language of religion, for example, does not have to be the same as that of science. Indeed, the language in which religious truth is expressed, while at times as objective and unambiguous as scientific language, often has to transcend the limitations of such language in order to offer insights into reality through the use of poetic imagery. Moreover, religion has access to the words of the Manifestation Himself—words that speak directly to the human heart and mind in ways that no others can.

 

Harmony of Science and Religion

The harmony between science and religion should be understood as existing at more than one level. At the first level, it can be argued that the two are so distinct that there is no possibility of conflict between them. Science studies the material universe. The knowledge it generates becomes the basis for technological progress. But technology can be used for the good of humanity or to its detriment, for building civilization or for its destruction. Science in itself does not have the ability to determine to what use its products should be put.

Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with the spiritual dimension of human existence. It throws light on the inner life of the individual; it touches the roots of motivation and engenders the system of ethics and morality that directs human behavior. It can set the ethical framework within which technology can be developed and employed. In this sense, civilization needs both religion and science, and as long as each remains within the sphere of its own activities there is no reason to believe that they will come into conflict with each other.

This view of the harmony between science and religion is quite valid at the level of application of scientific results. Indeed, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has used this depiction in His remarks to certain audiences. But most of the time He goes beyond such strict separation and presents a view of science and religion as highly interconnected. Attempts to understand the role of knowledge in the building of civilization should pay a great deal of attention to these interconnections and try to understand their nature.

In this regard, three conceptions have to be ruled out. One is of two entirely disjoint systems with nothing in common. The second is of religion with science as a subsystem, a conception that finally leads to the denial of science’s own processes of knowledge generation and the assertion that if one becomes spiritual enough these processes can be set aside. (According to this line of thinking, all necessary scientific knowledge can be discovered through reading religious text.) The third conception is one in which religion is a subset of science, which deals with it as a very complex social and psychological phenomenon to be respected and, if need be, used for the benefit of society.

With these three models discarded, one alternative is left: that of science and religion as two distinct but partially overlapping systems. The area of overlap covers many elements. Some are articles of faith and assumptions, although we must recognize that there are matters of faith and assumptions in each system that are distinct, sometimes simply because they are not needed in the other. These commonalities also extend to matters of method, the object of study, qualities and attitudes, and mental and social processes. This overlap is intrinsic to the two systems and originates in the fact that making a sharp division between matter and spirit is in itself impossible and undesirable. Although for many practical purposes it is possible and necessary to separate the two systems and allow their processes to run parallel to each other, attempts to deny their intimate interactions in the minds of human beings and in society rob them both of the extraordinary powers inherent in them.

In Bahá’í belief, the source of all knowledge, whether scientific or religious, is God. Religion is the direct child of divine revelation. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes: Read, in the school of God, the lessons of the spirit, and learn from love’s Teacher the innermost truths. Seek out the secrets of Heaven, and tell of the overflowing grace and favor of God.7Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1997), 116. Science also receives its impulse from the powers released by the Manifestation of God, as indicated in the following passage:

… the moment the word expressing My attribute The Omniscient issueth forth from My mouth, every created thing will, according to its capacity and limitations, be invested with the power to unfold the knowledge of the most marvelous sciences, and will be empowered to manifest them in the course of time at the bidding of Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.8Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 142.

As the source of all knowledge is God, to reach and live in His presence is the object of all search. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written:

Although to acquire the sciences and arts is the greatest glory of mankind, this is so only on condition that man’s river flow into the mighty sea, and draw from God’s ancient source His inspiration. When this cometh to pass, then every teacher is a shoreless ocean, every pupil a prodigal fountain of knowledge.9Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 116.

 

The Individual and the Acquisition of Knowledge

For the individual believer, the acquisition of knowledge is a duty prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh: Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone.10Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1994), 51. It is clear from numerous passages that both human learning and the knowledge of the teachings of God are intended: Let the loved ones of God, whether young or old, whether male or female, each according to his capabilities, bestir themselves and spare no efforts to acquire the various current branches of knowledge, both spiritual and secular, and of the arts.11From a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in the compilation Excellence in All Things (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1989), #24: 8.

With so many passages in the Bahá’í writings extolling the acquisition of knowledge, Bahá’ís are bound to pay a great deal of attention to learning, and, therefore, such questions as what to learn and how to learn are of paramount importance in the life of the individual. The first distinction that he or she must make is between knowledge and information. Facts and information are the raw materials of knowledge in the same way that sand and cement, earth, wood, metals and glass are some of the raw materials of a building. Just as these building materials do not in themselves constitute an edifice but must be shaped into a structure, so knowledge is a structured system that includes facts and information but must also contain other elements such as concepts, patterns, connections, and hierarchies.

Knowledge is only meaningful if accompanied by true understanding, as Bahá’u’lláh explains:

Know thou that, according to what thy Lord, the Lord of all men, hath decreed in His Book, the favors vouchsafed by Him unto mankind have been, and will ever remain, limitless in their range. First and foremost among these favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding. His purpose in conferring such a gift is none other except to enable His creature to know and recognize the one true God—exalted be His glory. This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation.12Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 194.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá elaborates:

God’s greatest gift to man is that of intellect, or understanding. The understanding is the power by which man acquires his knowledge of the several kingdoms of creation, and of various stages of existence, as well as of much which is invisible.

Possessing this gift, he is, in himself, the sum of earlier creations—he is able to get into touch with those kingdoms; and by this gift he can frequently, through his scientific knowledge, reach out with prophetic vision.13Paris Talks: Addresses given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris in 1911 (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), 32.

In exploring the connection between knowledge and understanding, it is possible to claim that the knowledge of things is somehow associated with the things themselves and that the knowledge of the universe is encoded in the universe. But understanding is a power of the human soul. Nature is bereft of it. Nature is ordered but it is not conscious of that order; it behaves according to prescribed laws but it cannot see meaning in them. Understanding, a power of the higher nature of the human being, unravels not only the knowledge of the laws and of the order, but also penetrates the meaning that underlies their existence.

This latter point merits further explanation. Seen from a strictly materialistic viewpoint, knowledge is acquired only through the senses. Stimuli are received by the senses and processed by the brain. The brain itself is, in the final analysis, material—a collection of highly specialized cells communicating with one another through complex physical and chemical interactions. Collective activities of these cells are given names, such as short- and long-term memory, cognition, and affective responses, but there is nothing transcendent about any of them. In this worldview, then, the question of understanding would have to be reducible, at least in principle, to which configuration of atoms and molecules and what set of interactions receive the generic name understanding.

In the Bahá’í view, the reality of man is his soul, which is beyond material existence. Through its power the mind understands, imagines, and exerts influence. While the mind comprehends the abstract by the aid of the concrete, the soul has additional means through which it can achieve understanding. Thus, the search for knowledge should not be concerned only with the sharpening of the mind, but also with the development of the soul’s other faculties. The individual must be aware of the potentialities inherent in these other powers of the soul and have an idea of what they can accomplish. The Bahá’í writings are replete with references to these faculties, such as the inner eye, the inner ear, and the heart, as found in the following passages:

[W]e must thank God that He has created for us both material blessings and spiritual bestowals. He has given us material gifts and spiritual graces, outer sight to view the lights of the sun and inner vision by which we may perceive the glory of God.14The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 90.

He has designed the outer ear to enjoy the melodies of sound and the inner hearing wherewith we may hear the voice of our Creator.15Ibid., 90.

…O brother! kindle with the oil of wisdom the lamp of the spirit within the innermost chamber of thy heart, and guard it with the globe of understanding…16The Kitáb-i-Iqán (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1989), 61.

Awareness of the role that the various powers of the soul are to play in the search for knowledge and true understanding protects the individual from certain absurd dichotomies introduced in the prevalent intellectual discourse. Of special importance is the false dichotomy between the mind and the heart. It is, of course, legitimate to call certain powers of the soul the mind and certain of its other powers the heart. These designations enrich the language needed to comprehend such complex concepts as knowing, understanding, feeling, and conjuring up the will to act. But the powers of the soul cannot simply be easily separated and rigidly categorized as, for example, a mind that only thinks rationally and a heart that only feels irrational or super-rational sentiments. Such categorizations finally lead to dead ends those branches of science and philosophy that are concerned with knowledge. In daily life, too, the introduction of such concepts as mind person and heart person limits the possibilities of human interaction and stunts the development of human potential.

If it is accepted that to achieve true understanding the individual must draw on the many powers of the soul, then one of the most challenging tasks in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding is to purify one’s inner being. The opening passages of Bahá’u’lláh’s central theological treatise, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, speak to this point:

No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayán.

The essence of these words is this: they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly—their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, and become the recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen ….17Ibid., 3.

When knowledge is accompanied by true understanding, it leads to wisdom, to which Bahá’u’lláh refers as humanity’s unfailing protector and the foremost teacher in the school of existence. One of the characteristics of wisdom is that it connects knowledge and action in a particular way, fitting the application of knowledge to the exigencies of each situation. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá advises:

Follow thou the way of thy Lord, and say not that which the ears cannot bear to hear, for such speech is like luscious food given to small children. However palatable, rare and rich the food may be, it cannot be assimilated by the digestive organs of a suckling child. Therefore unto everyone who hath a right, let his settled measure be given ….

First diagnose the disease and identify the malady, then prescribe the remedy, for such is the perfect method of the skillful physician.18Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 281–82.

The Bahá’í writings clearly state that the essence of wisdom is the fear of God, and the beginning of wisdom is to acknowledge whatsoever God has clearly set forth.

Acquiring knowledge and seeking wisdom are goals that every Bahá’í pursues according to his or her talents and capacities. The pursuit of knowledge in a scholarly way by its members brings numerous benefits to the Bahá’í community and provides the means for those who excel in a field of human endeavor to influence that field and infuse it with the light of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation. The Universal House of Justice has stated:

As the Bahá’í community grows, it will acquire experts in numerous fields—both by Bahá’ís becoming experts and by experts becoming Bahá’ís. As these experts bring their knowledge and skill to the service of the community and, even more, as they transform their various disciplines by bringing to bear upon them the light of the Divine Teachings, problem after problem now disrupting society will be answered.19From a letter dated 21 August 1977, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, cited in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963–1986 (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996), 369.

Bringing the light of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to bear on a certain field is not a simple task. It cannot be achieved through mere criticism, nor through superficial appeals to spirituality, nor through embracing the propositions of pseudoscience. It calls for a rigorous study of the field in question, mastery of it, and then, from a position of knowledge, effort to influence its development.

In seeking to attain knowledge, understanding and wisdom, the individual should be cognizant of the characteristics that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá attributes to those who are to be considered as truly learned. Certain passages from His treatise The Secret of Divine Civilization are especially significant in this respect. In them, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá begins by asserting that for everything

God has created a sign and symbol, and established standards and tests by which it may be known. The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. For an unlit candle, however great in diameter and tall, is no better than a barren palm tree or a pile of dead wood.20The Secret of Divine Civilization, 33–34.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá then goes on to cite an authoritative tradition of Islam, which says: As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord.21Ibid., 34.

In His discourse on these various requirements that pertain to the truly learned, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addresses the first, guarding oneself, in these words:

It is obvious that this does not refer to protecting oneself from calamities and material tests, for the Prophets and saints were, each and every one, subjected to the bitterest afflictions that the world has to offer, and were targets for all the cruelties and aggressions of mankind. They sacrificed their lives for the welfare of the people, and with all their hearts they hastened to the place of their martyrdom; and with their inward and outward perfections they arrayed humanity in new garments of excellent qualities, both acquired and inborn. The primary meaning of this guarding of oneself is to acquire the attributes of spiritual and material perfection.22Ibid., 34–35.

His comment on the second spiritual standard, namely, that the truly learned individual should be the defender of his faith, is this:

It is obvious that these holy words do not refer exclusively to searching out the implications of the Law, observing the forms of worship, avoiding greater and lesser sins, practicing the religious ordinances, and by all these methods, protecting the Faith. They mean rather that the whole population should be protected in every way; that every effort should be exerted to adopt a combination of all possible measures to raise up the Word of God, increase the number of believers, promote the Faith of God and exalt it and make it victorious over other religions.23Ibid., 41.

As to the third requirement, that of opposing one’s passions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:

How wonderful are the implications of this deceptively easy, all-inclusive phrase. This is the very foundation of every laudable human quality; indeed, these few words embody the light of the world, the impregnable basis of all the spiritual attributes of human beings. This is the balance wheel of all behavior, the means of keeping all man’s good qualities in equilibrium.

For desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned, a devouring fire that even the vast sea of their accumulated knowledge could never quench. How often has it happened that an individual who was graced with every attribute of humanity and wore the jewel of true understanding, nevertheless followed after his passions until his excellent qualities passed beyond moderation and he was forced into excess. His pure intentions changed to evil ones, his attributes were no longer put to uses worthy of them, and the power of his desires turned him aside from righteousness and its rewards into ways that were dangerous and dark. A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation. Were the implications of this subject to be developed as they deserve the work would grow too long and our main theme would be lost to view.24Ibid., 59–60.

Finally ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refers to the fourth condition required of the learned, which is to be obedient to the commandments of their Lord, by saying:

It is certain that man’s highest distinction is to be lowly before and obedient to his God; that his greatest glory, his most exalted rank and honor, depend on his close observance of the Divine commands and prohibitions. Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books.25Ibid., 71.

Other passages in the Bahá’í writings provide further insights into the characteristics of the learned. They state, for example, that the pursuit of knowledge should not lead to self-righteousness, which arises from an exaggerated regard for one’s own self and should not be confused with the highly desirable quality of righteousness. In fact, righteousness requires the individual to measure him- or herself scrupulously against the standards of the divine teachings and to exert every effort to overcome his or her shortcomings. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:

It is my hope that you may consider this matter, that you may search out your own imperfections and not think of the imperfections of anybody else. Strive with all your power to be free from imperfections. Heedless souls are always seeking faults in others. What can the hypocrite know of others’ faults when he is blind to his own?26The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 244.

This injunction to measure one’s own behavior in the balance of the very high standards contained in the Bahá’í teachings goes hand in hand with the exhortation to show tolerance towards others. Bahá’u’lláh describes righteousness and tolerance as two qualities that need to complement each other:

The heaven of true understanding shineth resplendent with the light of two luminaries, tolerance and righteousness.

O my friend! Vast oceans lie enshrined within this brief saying. Blessed are they who appreciate its value, drink deep therefrom and grasp its meaning, and woe betide the heedless.27Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 169–70.

Regarding tolerance, Bahá’u’lláh has stated that one should not be too critical of the sayings and writings of men but should approach them in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy. A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, emphasizes the importance of tolerance in all aspects of community life:

The people of the world not only need the laws and principles of the Bahá’í Faith—they desperately need to see the love that is engendered by it in the hearts of its followers, and to partake of that atmosphere of tolerance, understanding, forbearance and active kindness which should be the hallmark of a Bahá’í community.28From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 5 December 1942 (unpublished).

Another important issue that arises regarding knowledge and wisdom concerns the individual’s motivation to pursue knowledge and engage in scholarly activity. In one of His tablets ‘Abdu’l-Bahá observes:

Glory be to God! What an extraordinary situation now obtains, when no one, hearing a claim advanced, asks himself what the speaker’s real motive might be, and what selfish purpose he might not have hidden behind the mask of words. You find, for example, that an individual seeking to further his own petty and personal concerns, will block the advancement of an entire people. To turn his own water mill, he will let the farms and fields of all the others parch and wither. To maintain his own leadership, he will everlastingly direct the masses toward that prejudice and fanaticism which subvert the very base of civilization.29The Secret of Divine Civilization, 103–04.

Motivation to pursue knowledge should not be the need to feel superior to others or the desire to advance oneself over others. Effort to distinguish oneself through deeds, words, and even through knowledge and wisdom is most praiseworthy, but there is another kind of distinction that should be avoided. Of it, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world hath been laid waste. It has become desolate.30From an unpublished Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in a letter from the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, dated 27 March 1978, cited in the compilation, The Continental Boards of Counsellors (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1981), 59–60.

We live in a time when dominant social theories assign great value to aggression and unbridled competition. Such theories go as far as to assert that competition is the only means through which excellence can be achieved and that it is inherent in the human condition. In contrast, Bahá’u’lláh says: O Son of Dust! Verily I say unto thee: Of all men the most negligent is he that disputeth idly and seeketh to advance himself over his brother.31The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1981), 23–24.

In another passage He writes: It behoveth not, therefore, him who was created from dust, who will return unto it, and will again be brought forth out of it, to swell with pride before God, and before His loved ones, to proudly scorn them, and be filled with disdainful arrogance.32Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 231. An indispensable quality of the learned is true humility, beginning with humility before God and leading to humility before His creatures, who are brought into being to reflect His names and attributes.

Although thirst for knowledge in itself should impel the individual to pursue knowledge, Bahá’ís can never separate their goals and desires from the central theme of their lives, which is service. Seeking knowledge, true understanding and wisdom is not, for them, a mere matter of personal satisfaction; it has a definite social purpose. As the Bahá’í writings state:

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. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.33The Secret of Divine Civilization, 2–3.

An essential quality of the learned, then, is generosity of the soul, for without it, knowledge becomes a tool for control and even oppression.

 

Conclusion

The fundamental challenge before humanity at this stage in its development is the creation of a civilization in which all peoples and cultures can participate—a civilization that represents a fusion of the material and spiritual imperatives of life. In this endeavor, both individuals and communities have vital roles to play. The scale at which knowledge must be generated and applied if humanity is to be ushered into an age of true prosperity calls for society to develop the means for all its members to have access to knowledge. In this way, everyone can become meaningfully engaged in applying knowledge to create well-being. Recognizing that religion and science, as two interacting knowledge systems and two complementary sources evolving with human society itself, constitute the main forces that impel social progress, the Bahá’í worldview envisions a moderate approach, acceptable to both religion and science, in which the generation and application of knowledge form the central axis around which other processes of society are organized. Through such means all can contribute, according to their capacities, to the progress of knowledge and to an ever-advancing civilization.

By William Hatcher

III. THE COLLECTIVE DIMENSION OF SPIRITUALITY

1. The Social Matrix of Individual Growth

Until now in our discussion, we have viewed the process of spiritual growth as being primarily an individual one, a process which effects changes within the individual and in his behavior towards his social and natural environment. However, it is obvious that individual spiritual growth does not and cannot take place in a vacuum. It takes place within the context of a given society that is bound to have a profound influence on the individual in his pursuit of spirituality. Indeed, there are many intricate, subtle, and complex interactions between any society and each of the individuals composing it. These interactions produce reciprocal influences that operate on different levels of behavior, life experience, and consciousness. It is therefore more accurate to view the spiritual growth process as an organically social one having several identifiable but related components. Some of these are: (1) an individual component, which has been the main focus of our discussion in the previous sections, (2) a collective or global component, involving the evolution of society as a whole, and (3) an interactive component, involving the relationship between the individual and society. In this section, the global and interactive dimensions of the spiritual growth process will be briefly examined.

The Bahá’í Writings make clear that, just as the individual has a basically spiritual purpose to his existence, so society also has a spiritual raison d’être. The spiritual purpose of society is to provide the optimal milieu for the full and adequate spiritual growth and development of the individuals in that society. In the Bahá’í view, all other aspects of social evolution, such as technological innovations, institutional structures, decision-making procedures and the exercise of authority, group interactions, and the like, are to be judged positive or negative according to whether they contribute to or detract from the goal of fostering a favorable milieu for spiritual growth.

Such a concept of society and its meaning is certainly a radical departure from the commonly held view that society serves primarily as a vehicle for economic activity to provide for the conditions of material existence. However, the inherent limitations of this common viewpoint become readily apparent when one reflects that nature itself already provides the basic conditions for material existence. Therefore, providing such conditions can hardly be the fundamental purpose of human society, for society then becomes redundant at best and possibly harmful.

Of course, economic activity is an important part of society’s function since a certain level of material well-being and stability provides opportunities for spiritual growth. A social milieu in which large segments of the population are starving or living in other such extreme conditions is hardly a milieu which is favorable to the full and adequate spiritual development of its members, although spiritual growth can take place under such conditions. Also, a just, well-organized, and efficient economy can serve to free man, at least partially, from boring and excessive labor and thus provide time for higher intellectual and artistic pursuits.

Another spiritual implication of economic activity is that it requires intense human interaction and therefore provides many of the challenges and opportunities necessary to stimulate spiritual growth among its participants. It is in the market place that questions of justice, compassion, honesty, trust, and self-sacrifice become living reality and not just abstract philosophy. We therefore cannot safely neglect the “outer” dimension of society in the name of our basic preoccupation with spiritual growth. Indeed, if the prevailing structures and behavioral norms of society are such as to inhibit or discourage spiritual growth, the individual will be impeded in his personal growth process. The occasional moral hero will succeed in spiritualizing his life against all odds, but the vast majority will eventually succumb to the prevailing negative influences.

Also, one of the important characteristics of personal spiritual maturity is a highly developed social conscience. The spiritually-minded individual has become intensely aware of the many ways he depends on society and has a keen sense of social obligation. Society thus benefits from the spiritualized individuals within its fold because of the unselfish quality of their service to the collectivity, and because their particular talents and capacities are relatively well-developed. At the same time, the individual spiritual seeker’s relative dependence on society fosters his humility, and the energy and effort he contributes towards the solution of social problems helps prevent the (necessary) attention he gives to his inner spiritual struggles from leading to an unhealthy degree of self- preoccupation. Bahá’u’lláh has said that the individual in the pursuit of spirituality should be anxiously concerned with the needs of the society in which he lives and that “All men have been created to carry forward an ever- advancing civilization.”1Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1971), p. 215.

2. Unity

In our discussion of the principles governing individual spiritual growth, we have seen that certain attitudes and behavior patterns are conducive to spiritual growth whereas others are not. In the same way, certain social norms and types of social structures are conducive to the spiritual growth process whereas others are not. One of the fundamental features of the Bahá’í Faith is that its teachings include detailed prescriptions regarding social structures and their relationship to spiritual growth. Broadly speaking, Bahá’u’lláh teaches that those social and economic structures which favor co-operation and unity are conducive to the spiritual growth process while those structures based on competition, conflict, power-seeking, and dominance-seeking hierarchies are destructive to the growth process. The unity taught by Bahá’u’lláh is not simply a formal juxtaposition of disparate parts, but an organic unity based on a spiritual quality of relationship between groups and among individuals working within a given group. Nor is it a uniformity or homogeneity, but a “unity in diversity,” a unity in which the particular qualities of the co-operating components are respected in a way that enables these qualities to contribute to the unity of the whole rather than detracting from it as so often happens in the case of social structures based on competition and dominance-seeking.

The Bahá’í focus on unity, and the attention which the Bahá’í Writings give to the social and collective dimension of the spiritual growth process probably represent the most original contributions of the Bahá’í Faith to the collective spiritual consciousness of mankind, for the individual dimension of the spiritual growth process has been a part of every revealed religion. Indeed, some revelations, for example those of Jesus and Buddha, have focused almost entirely on the individual. Other revelations, such as those of Moses and Muhammad, have treated the social dimension to a greater degree, giving laws governing the behavior of groups as well as that of individuals. However, in the case of the Bahá’í Faith, we see for perhaps the first time in religious history the spiritual growth process in its full collective dimension.

3. Social Evolution; World Order

In the Bahá’í view, the whole of mankind constitutes an organic unit which has undergone a collective growth process similar to that of the individual. Just as the individual achieves his maturity in stages, gradually developing his abilities and enlarging the scope of his knowledge and understanding, so mankind has passed through different stages in the as yet unfinished process of achieving its collective maturity. According to Bahá’u’lláh, each occurrence of revelation has enabled mankind to achieve some particular step forward in its growth process. Of course, every revelation has contributed in a general way to man kind’s spiritual awareness by restating and elaborating those eternal spiritual truths which are the very basis of human existence. But Bahá’u’lláh affirms that, besides this general and universal function common to all revelations, there is a specific function by which each revelation plays its particular and unique role in the spiritual growth process. Here are some of the ways that these two dimensions of revelation are described in the Bahá’í Writings:

The divine religions embody two kinds of ordinances. First those which constitute essential or spiritual teachings of the Word of God. These are faith in God, the acquirement of the virtues which characterize perfect manhood, praiseworthy moralities, the acquisition of the bestowals and bounties emanating from the divine effulgences; in brief the ordinances which concern the realm of morals and ethics. This is the fundamental aspect of the religion of God and this is of the highest importance because knowledge of God is the fundamental requirement of man. … This is the essential foundation of all the divine religions, the reality itself, common to all. …

Secondly: Laws and ordinances which are temporary and non-essential. These concern human transactions and relations. They are accidental and subject to change according to the exigencies of time and place.2‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Faith For Every Man (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972), p. 43.

God’s purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquility of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established.3Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1971), pp. 79-80.

These Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity …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. …

The other station is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation, and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation.4Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1971), pp. 50-52.

Bahá’u’lláh associates His “particular revelation” with the transition from adolescence to adulthood in the collective life of mankind. He affirms that the social history of mankind from its primitive beginnings in the formation of small social groups until the present day represents the stages of infancy, childhood, and adolescence of mankind. Mankind now stands poised on the brink of maturity, and the current turbulence and strife in the world are analogous to the turbulence of the ultimate stages of preadulthood in the life of the individual.

The long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race had to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of manhood.5Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1955), p. 202.

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve—is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. … 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 implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. …

It represents the consummation of human evolution—an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations.

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it.6Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1955), pp. 42-43.

Because Bahá’u’lláh conceived His fundamental mission to be that of realizing world unity, His teachings contain detailed proposals for the establishment of institutions and social forms conducive to that end. For example, He proposes the establishment of a world legislature and a world court having final jurisdiction in all disputes between nations. He proposes the adoption of a universal auxiliary language, of universal obligatory education, of the principle of equality of the sexes, and of an economic system which would eliminate the extremes of poverty and wealth. All of these institutions and principles He sees as essential to building a society that encourages and promotes the full spiritual growth of its members.

The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and world culture—all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Bahá’í Era—should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.7Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing trust, 1955), p. 163.

Bahá’u’lláh gave the term “world order” to the new system He envisaged. Bahá’ís believe that the establishment of this new world order is ultimately the only answer to the quest for spiritual growth. For if the stability, harmony, and morally progressive character of human society are not assured, the individual’s goal of achieving spiritual development will be frustrated and his basic purpose in life thereby undermined.

The change in focus which results from this global perspective on the spiritual growth process is succinctly and clearly expressed by Shoghi Effendi:

… the object of life to a Bahá’í is to promote the oneness of mankind. The whole object of our lives is bound up with the lives of all human beings; not a personal salvation we are seeking, but a universal one…. Our aim is to produce a world civilization which will in turn react on the character of the individual. It is, in a way, the inverse of Christianity which started with the individual unit and through it reached out to the conglomerate life of men.8Shoghi Effendi, quoted in The Spiritual Revolution (Thornhill, Ontario: Canadian Bahá’í Community, 1974), p. 9.

4. The Bahá’í Community

The social structure and behavioral norms of present-day society are largely those we have inherited from the past. For the most part, they have not been consciously chosen by the collectivity through some deliberate process, but rather have evolved in response to various temporary and sometimes contradictory exigencies. They most certainly have not been chosen according to the criterion of fostering spiritual growth.

Especially in the industrialized West, but even in more technologically primitive societies, the currently existing social forms are largely based on competition and on dominance-seeking hierarchies. Such social forms tend to promote disunity, conflict, aggressive behavior, power-seeking behavior, and excessive preoccupation with purely material success. The following passage from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh powerfully conveys the destructive effects mankind has suffered as a result of these social forms and behavior patterns:

And amongst the realms of unity is the unity of rank and station. It redoundeth to the exaltation of the Cause, glorifying it among all peoples. Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world hath been laid waste. It hath become desolate. Those who have quaffed from the ocean of divine utterance and fixed their gaze upon the Realm of Glory should regard themselves as being on the same level as the others and in the same station. Were this matter to be definitely established and conclusively demonstrated through the power and might of God, the world would become as the Abhá Paradise.9Quoted in a letter from the Universal House of Justice published in Bahá’í Canada, June-July 1978, p. 3.

Given Bahá’u’lláh’s affirmation that unity is the necessary social basis for spiritual growth, it follows that we are now living in a society which is largely indifferent and in many ways detrimental to the spiritual growth process. Indeed, the historical events of the twentieth century and the moral quality of our day to day lives provide powerful confirmations of this hypothesis. The social structures of present-day society are vestiges of past forms which may have been helpful in stimulating certain kinds of growth during previous stages of mankind’s spiritual evolution but which have now outlived their usefulness.

This situation obviously poses a deep problem to any individual who is serious in his pursuit of spiritual growth. Even if one accepts Bahá’u’lláh’s model of world order and is willing to strive to bring it about as the best hope for mankind, how is one to pursue successfully the spiritual growth process in a milieu that is so unconcerned with it?

The answer the Bahá’í Faith offers to this dilemma is the Bahá’í community. Bahá’u’lláh has not only offered a vision and a hope for the future, He has established a living community which already functions on the basis of the unity principles. This community is conceived as a prototype or an embryo of the future world society. By relating properly to this community and participating in it, the individual finds himself capable of developing his spiritual capacities in a significant way, even if the enveloping society-at-large remains indifferent to the growth process. Bahá’ís view the Bahá’í community established by Bahá’u’lláh as a precious and necessary tool for this transition period from the old to the new social order. At the same time, the growth and development of the Bahá’í community are part of the progressive establishment of the world order itself. Moreover, the Bahá’í community functions as an entity and as a constructive force within the larger community to stimulate the movement of society as a whole towards unity.

The individual’s participation in the Bahá’í community is not passive. There is no priesthood, clergy, or ecclesiastical hierarchy in the Bahá’í Faith. Spiritual growth is a self-initiated, self-responsible process, and the individual’s participation in the Bahá’í community in no way diminishes his responsibility for his personal development.

In order to understand more clearly how participation in the Bahá’í community fosters spiritual development, let us focus for a moment on the spiritually negative features of modern-day society. It is in the contrast between the Bahá’í community, based on unity and co-operation, and the larger society based on competition and dominance- seeking, that we can gain insight into the interactive dimension of the spiritual growth process.

It is the essence of the relationship between the individual and the society to which he belongs that the individual is strongly motivated to succeed according to the prevailing norms of success in the given society. Security, status, material well-being, social acceptance, and approval are the main things the individual seeks from society, and success in satisfying societal norms yields these rewards. Society wants the individual’s productive effort, his collaboration and support in the realization of collective goals. Society applies both incentives and threats to induce the individual to accept social norms and goals.

To say that an individual accepts the norms and goals of a society means that he uses his understanding capacity to learn the skills necessary for success. He must also cultivate those emotional patterns, attitudes, and aspirations which characterize socially successful individuals in the given society. Finally, he must act in a way conducive to success. Such a pattern of behaviour will involve producing certain goods or services as well as a certain kind of relationship with other members of the society.

The norms of modern industrialized society largely revolve around material success through competition, dominance-seeking and power-seeking. The goal is usually a high level of economic productivity coupled with a high ranking and status in the social hierarchy. To succeed, the individual must learn those skills and techniques which enable him to best others in competitive struggle and to obtain power over them. He must learn how to manipulate, control, and dominate others. The knowledge which is useful to these ends is often diametrically opposed to the kind of knowledge involved in spiritual growth. We have earlier seen that the self-knowledge which is equivalent to the knowledge of God amounts to knowing how to submit to the will of God: The individual must learn how to be the conscious instrument of a force that is his moral and spiritual superior. Thus, virtually all the skills he develops in the pursuit of social success in a power-oriented society will be useless and, in fact, detrimental to his spiritual growth. The spiritually sensitive individual in modern society is therefore faced with a dilemma. He will either become a split personality, trying to be spiritual part of the time and to manipulate others for the remainder, or else he will ultimately have to choose between the two goals of social success and spiritual progress.10Success in the pursuit of dominance must be distinguished from success in the pursuit of excellence. Striving for excellence is highly encouraged in the Bahá’í Writings. That the two pursuits are different, and that competitive struggle with others is not necessary to attain excellence, are important spiritual and psychological insights.

It is not only the development of the knowing capacity that is falsified by the pursuit of success in competition, but the heart’s feeling capacity as well. One must continually give priority to one’s own needs and desires and become increasingly insensitive to the needs of others. Genuine compassion towards and love for other individuals undermines the will to dominate because such empathetic emotions lead one to identify with and to experience the feelings of the dominated one.

The giving and receiving of love is a reciprocal or symmetric relationship. It is a positive and satisfying experience for both parties. Dominance, however, is asymmetrical, yielding positive emotions and a sense of exhilaration for the dominant one, but generally negative, depressed, angry and self-deprecating emotions for the one dominated. It is therefore logically and psychologically impossible to seek to dominate someone whom we genuinely love, since the empathetic emotions of love allow us to feel the unpleasant emotions of being dominated, and this experience undermines our willingness to become the conscious agent of producing such negative emotions in one we love and respect.

In other words, we cannot be successful in competitive struggle with others without hurting them, and we cannot deliberately hurt others if we love them. It is thus easy to see how a person who dedicates himself to success in competitive struggle with others will increasingly become alienated both from himself and from others. His heart will become atrophied and hard. The development of his feeling capacity will be stunted and distorted.

The will capacity is also misused in the pursuit of power and dominance. The force of the will is turned outward towards others and used against them rather than being turned inward towards self-mastery and self-dominance. The will is used to oppose others, to limit their field of action, rather than being applied to develop the internal capacities of the self in the pursuit of spirituality and excellence.

Excellence represents self-development, the flowering of the self’s capacities and qualities. It involves comparisons between our performance at different instances and under various circumstances (so-called “self competition”). But competition and power-seeking are based on comparisons with the performance of others. Such comparisons usually lead either to mediocrity, arrogance, undeveloped potential and unrealistically low, self-expectations or else to depression, jealousy, aggressive behaviour and unrealistically high self-expectations, depending on the capacities of those with whom we choose to compare ourselves. Neither of these is conducive to excellence.

In pursuing power, we tend to manipulate others, to use them as means to our ends. This is the very opposite of serving others and of acting towards them in such a way as to contribute to their spiritual advancement—the proper, God-intended expression of the will in action. In fact, unselfish service to society and true self-development go hand-in-hand, for a high degree of development makes us secure in our identity. It gives us inner peace and self- confidence. Moreover, we have more to give others, and our service is therefore more valuable and more effective.

Thus, spirituality and the pursuit of excellence reinforce each other while power struggle and competition are inimical to both. The pursuit of dominance may stimulate some development on the part of the “winners,” but such development is often at the expense of others and of society as a whole. And even for the winners, it frequently produces an unstable, artificial, and unbalanced kind of development.

A society based on unity, co-operation and mutual encouragement allows everyone to pursue spirituality and excellence while contributing significantly to the society itself. Just as love is satisfactory to both giver and receiver, so unity is beneficial both to society and to the individual members of the society. Such is the interactive dimension of the spiritual growth process.

Unity, co-operation, and mutuality constitute the norms and goals of the Bahá’í community and form the basis of its institutions. Therefore, all the spiritual benefits which derive from a society based on unity principles accrue to those who participate in the Bahá’í community. There is, first of all, the association with people who are also committed to the process of self-aware, self-initiated spiritual growth. Since no two people have exactly the same experiences or have attained to an identical level of development in all areas of their lives, the individual participant receives much stimulation and help from others. When facing a spiritual crisis in his personal life, he can usually find those who have already faced a similar crisis and can give helpful advice and loving encouragement. He therefore overcomes many difficulties which, under other circumstances, might have discouraged him to such an extent that he would have abandoned the struggle for spiritual growth. He consequently attains a much higher level of development than would have been the case had he been deprived of such helpful associations and fellowship.

At the same time, the mutuality and reciprocal nature of association based on unity means that the relationship with the community is not unidirectional: the individual is not a passive recipient of spiritual advice from experts, but has opportunities to contribute to the growth of others and of the community. His own qualities, experiences, and opinions are respected and valued by others. He is constantly being called upon to sacrifice purely selfish interests in the path of service. This acts as a check on pride and arrogance. Since sincerely motivated service to others is the real fruit of the spiritual growth process, the individual is provided almost daily with concrete situations which enable him better to evaluate the level of spiritual development he has attained.

The spiritual seeker in contemplative isolation can easily fall victim to the subtle pitfall of spiritual pride. Preoccupied with his perception of his internal mental processes, he can quickly acquire the self-generated illusion that he has reached a high degree of spiritual development. Constant and vigorous participation in a hard-working community can help to dispel such conceits.

Participation in the Bahá’í community enables one to acquire certain specific skills that cannot be easily acquired elsewhere. For example, the basis of group decision-making in the Bahá’í Faith is consultation, a process involving a frank but loving expression of views by those involved on a basis of absolute equality. Consultation represents a subtle and multifaceted spiritual process, and time and effort are required to perfect it. Similarly, the electoral processes in the Bahá’í community involve many unique aspects which will not be discussed in the framework of this paper.

Another important dimension of the Bahá’í community is its diversity and universality. One is called upon to associate intimately with people of all social, cultural, and racial backgrounds. In society at large, our associations tend to be based on homogeneity: We associate with people with whom we feel the most comfortable. If most of our associations are on this basis, it will be difficult for us to discover our subtle prejudices and illusory self- concepts. Our friends will be those who are congruent with the false as well as the true aspects of our personality. The immense diversity within the Bahá’í community makes the discovery of prejudice and self-deceit much easier.

Thus, the Bahá’í Faith views the spiritual growth process as both collective and individual. The collective dimension involves the principles by which human society can be properly structured and ordered so as to optimize spiritual and material well-being and provide a healthy growth milieu for all individuals within it. The individual bears the primary responsibility for prosecuting his own growth process and for working to create a unified and healthy social milieu for everyone. This involves working towards the establishment of world unity. In particular, it involves active participation in the ongoing life of the Bahá’í community which, though forming only a part of society as a whole, already functions on the basis of the unity principles and seeks to implement them progressively in society.

IV. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

In the Bahá’í conception, spirituality is the process of the full, adequate, proper, and harmonious development of the spiritual capacities of each human being and of the collectivity of human beings. These spiritual capacities are capacities of a nonphysical, indivisible and eternally lasting entity called the soul. The soul of each individual, with its particular characteristics, is formed at the moment of the conception of the physical body. The process of spiritual development is eternal, continuing in other dimensions of existence after the death of the physical body. The body and its physical capacities serve as instruments for this process of spiritual growth during the period of earthly life when the body and soul are linked together.

All of man’s initially given capacities, both physical and spiritual, are good and potentially helpful to the spiritual growth process. However, there is a certain tension between the body’s physical needs and the metaphysical needs of the soul. Physical needs and desires must therefore be disciplined (not suppressed) if they are to contribute to the process of spiritual development in an effective way. Through the misuse or improper development of his initially given capacities, man can acquire unnatural or inordinate capacities and needs inimical to the spiritual growth process.

Among the basic spiritual capacities to be developed are the understanding or knowing capacity, the heart or feeling capacity, and the will, which represents the capacity to initiate and sustain action. The beginning stage of the process of spiritual development in childhood is one in which the individual is primarily the passive recipient of an educational process initiated by others. As the individual attains the full development of his physical capacities in adolescence, he becomes the active and self-responsible agent of his own growth process.

The goal of the development of the knowing capacity is the attainment of truth, which means that which is in conformity with reality. The ultimate reality to be known is God, and the highest form of knowledge is the knowledge of Him. God is the self-aware and intelligent force (Creator) responsible for man and his development. This knowledge of God takes the form of a particular kind of self-knowledge which enables the individual to become a conscious, willing, and intelligent instrument for God and for his purposes.

The goal of the development of the heart capacity is love. Love represents the energy necessary to pursue the goal of spiritual development. It is experienced as a strong attraction for and attachment to God and the laws and principles He has established. It also expresses itself as an attraction to others and in particular to the spiritual potential they have as beings like ourselves. Love thereby creates within us the desire to become instruments for the growth process of others.

The goal of the development of the will capacity is service to God, to others, and to ourselves. Service is realized by a certain kind of intentionality (good will) which is dramatized through appropriate action (good works). All of these basic capacities must be developed systematically and concomitantly, or else false or improper development (unspirituality) will result.

Our condition during the period of earthly life is one in which we have direct access to material reality but only indirect access to spiritual reality. The proper relationship to God is therefore established by means of recognizing and accepting the Manifestations or prophetic figures Who are superhuman beings sent by God for the purpose of educating and instructing mankind. These Manifestations are the link between the visible world of material reality and the invisible, but ultimately more real world of spiritual reality. Acceptance of the Manifestations and obedience to the laws They reveal are seen to constitute an essential prerequisite for the successful prosecution of the spiritual growth process.

The human race constitutes an organic unit whose fundamental component is the individual. Mankind undergoes a collective spiritual evolution analogous to the individual’s own growth process. The periodic appearance of a Manifestation of God is the motive force of this process of social evolution. Human society is currently at the stage of the critical transition from adolescence to adulthood or maturity. The practical expression of this yet-to-be-achieved maturity is a unified world society based on a world government, the elimination of prejudice and war, and the establishment of justice and harmony among the nations and peoples of the world. The particular mission of the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is to provide the basis for this new world order and the moral impetus to effect this transition in the collective life of mankind. Relating effectively to this present stage of society’s evolution is essential to the successful prosecution of the spiritual growth process in our individual lives. Participation in the world-wide Bahá’í community is especially helpful in this regard.

Such, in its barest outlines, is the process of individual and collective spiritual growth as found in the Bahá’í Writings. Undoubtedly, what remains to be discovered and understood in the vast revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is infinitely greater than what we can now understand and greater still than what we have been able to discuss in the present article. But the only intelligent response to this perception of our relative ignorance is not to wait passively until such future time as these deeper implications will have become evident, but rather to act vigorously and decisively on the basis of our limited understanding. Indeed, without such a response to the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, we may never arrive at the point where we will be able to penetrate the more subtle and deeper dimensions of the spiritual growth process.

No true knowledge is purely intellectual, but spiritual knowledge is unique in the breadth of its experiential dimension: it must be lived to become part of us. Nowhere does this truth appear more clearly than in the succinct and powerful coda to Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words:

I bear witness, O friends! that the favor is complete, the argument fulfilled, the proof manifest and the evidence established. Let it now be seen what your endeavors in the path of detachment will reveal.11Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1954), pp. 51-52.

 

By William Hatcher

Introduction

Part of the difficulty involved in attempts to understand and clarify the relationship between religion and science is that the nature of religion seems much less clearly defined than that of science. Is religion primarily a cognitive activity like science, or is it more akin to an aesthetic or emotional experience? If religion is seen as primarily cognitive, then the main problem seems to be that of reconciling the application of scientific method to religion. In particular, it is often felt that this is difficult to do without falsifying either the nature of scientific method or else the global, subjective, mystic character of religion. On the other hand, viewing religion as primarily non-cognitive appears ultimately to relegate religion to an unacceptably secondary and inferior status in the range of human activities.

The Bahá’í Faith, founded in 1844 in Persia under extraordinary circumstances, is significant among the religions of the contemporary world in its clear statement both of the nature of religion itself and of the applicability of scientific method to religion. In a summary description of basic Bahá’í beliefs, Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957) affirms:

The Revelation proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, His followers believe is divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men. The mission of the founder of their Faith, they conceive it to be to proclaim that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is continuous and progressive, that the Founders of all past religions, though different in the nonessential aspects of their teachings, “abide in the same Tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech and proclaim the same Faith.” His Cause, they have already demonstrated, stands identified with and revolves around, the principle of the organic unity of mankind as representing the consummation of the whole process of human evolution. This final stage in this stupendous evolution, they assert, is not only necessary but inevitable, that it is gradually approaching, and that nothing short of the celestial potency with which a divinely ordained Message can claim to be endowed can succeed in establishing it.

The Bahá’í Faith recognizes the unity of God and of His Prophets, upholds the principle of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all forms of superstition and prejudice, teaches that the fundamental purpose of religion is to promote concord and harmony, that it must go hand-in-hand with science, that it constitutes the sole and ultimate basis of a peaceful, an ordered and progressive society…1Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill., 1955, p. xi. Italics mine.

Further, the essentially cognitive nature of religion is affirmed by the founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892) in language such as that of the following passage:

First and foremost among those favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding. His purpose in conferring such a gift is none other except to enable His creature to know and recognize the one true God—exalted be His glory. This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation. Next in rank, is the power of vision, the chief instrument whereby his understanding can function. The senses of hearing, of the heart, and the like, are similarly to be reckoned among the gifts with which the human body is endowed… These gifts are inherent in man himself. That which is preeminent above all other gifts, is incorruptible in nature and pertaineth to God Himself, is the gift of Divine Revelation. Every bounty conferred by the Creator upon man, be it material or spiritual, is subservient unto this…2Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill., 1971, p. 194–195.

In other words from the Bahá’í viewpoint religion is importantly and basically a form of knowing, the object of knowledge (or basic datum) of which is the phenomenon of revelation. The other mystic and emotional aspects of religion are also affirmed in the Bahá’í Faith, but still the Faith is proclaimed to be “scientific in its method.” Another essential aspect of religion is that of action or “good works.” Still, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844–1921), son of Bahá’u’lláh and designated interpreter of his father’s revelation, affirms the primacy of knowledge with respect to action in the following terms: “Although a person of good deeds is acceptable at the Threshold of the Almighty, yet it is first ‘to know,’ and then ‘to do.’ Although a blind man produceth a most wonderful and exquisite art, yet he is deprived of seeing it… By faith is meant, first conscious knowledge, and second the practice of good deeds.”3‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, pages 382–383.

The problem with all of this is that to affirm something as true does not necessarily give us an understanding as to how or why it is true. My purpose in this paper, then, is to discuss the religion–science conflict from a Bahá’í viewpoint with the specific goal of explicating the above affirmations. It is my hope that such an effort may prove of interest and profit to those of any religious background or viewpoint.

The nature of the religion–science conflict

At the heart of the conflict between science and religion is the fact that two essentially different views of man are associated respectively with each, at least in the popular view. In the one instance, man is seen as a superevolved animal, a chance product of a material thermodynamic system. In the other case, he is seen as a spiritual being, created by God with a spiritual purpose given by God. Of course, conflicting views of the nature of man are as old as thought itself and certainly predate the period of modern science. However, it is only in the modern period that these materialistic views have become linked to a prestigious and highly efficient natural science. This prestige of science forces people to take seriously any pronouncement that is put forth in its name. All of this contrasts sharply with the pre-modern period in which the materialistic view was just one among many competing views and had no particular natural or obvious superiority over other views. People could simply discredit or disregard the materialistic viewpoint without feeling any pangs of conscience or without feeling threatened.

In sum, then, I am suggesting that the conflict between religion and science is due essentially to the two qualitatively different views of man which are associated respectively with them, that the force of the materialistic view associated with modern science is due not to any inherent philosophical superiority of that view but rather to the immense prestige of the science in the name of which the materialistic view is put forth, and that this prestige of science is due essentially to its evident technological productivity and efficiency.

One may, in turn, ask to what the efficiency and productiveness of modern science is due, and I believe that here there is one basic answer: scientific method. It is the method of science which has led to such remarkable results and thus to the present situation. Although some thinkers have tried to attribute the success of scientific method to one aspect or another of Western culture or religion, it is now abundantly clear that modern scientific method can be practised with success independently of any particular and religious or cultural orientation. Indeed, we can say that science as an activity is characterized by its method, for the immense diversity of domains which are now the object of scientific study defies any intrinsic characterization in terms of unity of content. The unity of science is its method.

The importance of religion, on the other hand, derives precisely from its goal and its contents rather than its method. Religion treats of questions which are so fundamental for us that every human being is obligated to realize the importance of answering them. Some of these questions are: the purpose of man’s existence, the possibility of life after death, the possibility of self-transcendence, the possibility of contacting and living in harmony with a higher spiritual consciousness, the meaning of suffering, the existence of good and evil. Once we realize that the basis of science is its method and that the basis of religion is its object of study, the essential move towards resolving the religion–science controversy seems obvious and logical: apply scientific method within religion. But, as we have already noted in the preceding, there is widespread feeling that this is not truly possible. Thus, each side remains with its view of the nature of man and feeling basically that a reconciliation is not possible.

It seems to me, however, that the conviction of the impossibility of applying scientific method to religion rests on several misconceptions both of the nature of scientific method and of the nature of religion. The ensuing discussion, though clearly incomplete, attempts to identify the sorts of misunderstandings involved.

The nature of scientific method

Science is, first of all, knowledge. Moreover, it is human knowledge because it is humans who do the knowing, and the nature of human knowledge will be determined by the nature of human mental faculties. Of course, every human being on earth knows things and uses his mental faculties in order to attain this knowledge. What distinguishes the scientific method of knowing, it seems to me, is the systematic, organized, directed, and conscious nature of the process. However much we may refine and elaborate our description of the application of scientific method in some particular domain such as mathematics, logic or physics, this description remains essentially an attempt on our part to bring to ourselves a fuller consciousness of exactly how we apply our mental faculties in the course of the epistemological act within the given domain. I offer, therefore, the following heuristic definition of scientific method:

Scientific method is the systematic, organized, directed and conscious use of our various mental faculties in an effort to arrive at a coherent model of whatever phenomenon is being investigated.

In a word, science is self-conscious common sense.4This is a conscious paraphrase of a description due to W. V. Quine, Word and Object, Technology Press of M.I.T., Cambridge, Mass., 1960, page 3. Instead of relying on chance happenings or occasional experiences, one systematically invokes certain types of experiences. This is experimentation (the conscious use of experience). Instead of relying on naive reasoning, one formalizes hypotheses explicitly and formalizes the reasoning leading from hypothesis to conclusion. This is mathematics and logic (the conscious use of reason). Instead of relying on occasional flashes of insight, one systematically meditates on problems. This is reflection (the conscious use of intuition).5For a much more detailed and exhaustive analysis of this conception of scientific method, see William S. Hatcher, “Science and Religion” World Order, 3, No. 3 (Spring 1969), p. 7–19.

The practice of this method is not linked to the study of any particular phenomenon. It can be applied to the study of unseen forces and mysterious phenomena as well as to everyday, common occurrences. Failure to appreciate the universality of scientific method has led some to feel that science is really only the study of matter and purely material phenomena. This narrow philosophical outlook, plus the historical fact that physics was the first science to develop a high degree of mathematical objectivity, has led to a common misconception that scientific knowledge is inherently limited only to physical reality and material phenomena.

It should also be stressed that the scientific study even of material and concretely accessible phenomena involves a heavily theoretical and subjective component. Far from just “reading the facts from the book of nature,” the scientist must bring an essential aspect of creative hypothesis and imagination to his work. Science as a whole is underdetermined by experience, and there are often many different possible models to explain a given phenomenon. The scientist must, therefore, not only seek to find out how things are but he must also imagine how things might be. Developments in all branches of science during the twentieth century have led to an increasing awareness among scientists and philosophers of the vastness of this subjective input into science.

Another feature of scientific knowledge is its relativity. Because science is the self-conscious use of our faculties, we become aware that man has no absolute measure of the truth. The conclusions of scientific investigations are always more or less probable. They are never absolute proof.6 Some might feel that deductive logical proofs are absolute, but such proofs proceed from premises which are ultimately based on empirical, and thus inductive or probable, inference. See the reference of note 5 above for a more detailed analysis and discussion of these points.

Of course, if a conclusion is highly probable and its negation highly improbable we may feel very confident in the results, especially if we have been very thorough in our investigation. But realization and acceptance of this essential incertitude and relativity of our knowledge is important, for the exigencies of the human situation are often such that we are forced to act in some instances before we have had time to make such a thorough investigation. It therefore behooves us to remain constantly alert to the possibility that we may, in fact, be wrong.7The appeal to probable inference here is in the sense of “approximate” and not in the technical sense of the strict construction of a probabilistic model for the phenomenon being investigated. Probability in our sense is thus a measure of the relative ignorance of the knowing subject rather than the hypothesis that the phenomenon under investigation is indeterminate in some way. This leaves unanswered the question as to whether every use of probability can be so regarded. However, if one espouses an essentially pragmatic epistemology, as I do, it may not even be necessary to determine, in any given instance, which part of our world view comes from the viewer and which part derives from the thing viewed. We have only to evaluate the explanatory and predictive value of our model according to pragmatic criteria. (See Hatcher, “Foundations as a Branch of Mathematics”, Journal of Philosophical Logic, Vol. 1 (1972), p. 349–358, for a further discussion of these points.)

Let us note, in passing, that a similar view of scientific method is expressed in several places in the Bahá’í Writings. In a talk delivered at the Green Acre Institute in Eliot, Maine in 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá discusses the methods of knowledge or criteria of judgment available to man:

Proofs are of four kinds; first through sense-perception; second through the reasoning faculty; third, from traditional or scriptural authority; fourth, through the medium of inspiration. That is to say, there are four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions.8This and the following passage are quoted in Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, George Ronald, London, 1971, p. 242.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá then discusses each of these criteria and shows why it is fallible and relative.9It is interesting to note the discussion given of the use of scriptural authority. In Some Answered Questions (Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill., 1930), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá points out that man’s understanding of scripture is limited by his own powers of reasoning and interpretation. Since these powers are relative, so is his understanding of scripture. Thus, regardless of the authority one attributes to the text itself, arguments based on such authority are in reality based on man’s understanding of the text and hence are not absolute. (see pages 342–343). He then continues:

Consequently it has become evident that the four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions are faulty and inaccurate. All of them are liable to mistake and error in conclusions. But a statement presented to the mind accompanied by proofs which the senses can perceive to be correct, which the faculty of reason can accept, which is in accord with traditional authority and sanctioned by the promptings of the heart, can be adjudged and relied upon as perfectly correct, for it has been proved and tested by all the standards of judgment and found to be complete. When we apply but one test there are possibilities of mistake…10See reference of note 8 above.

In still another passage, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains the relativity of man’s knowledge in the following terms:

Knowledge is of two kinds: one is subjective, and the other objective knowledge; that is to say, an intuitive knowledge and a knowledge derived from perception.

The knowledge of things which men universally have, is gained by reflection or by evidence; that is to say, either by the power of the mind the conception of an object is formed, or from beholding an object the form is produced in the mirror of the heart. The circle of this knowledge is very limited, because it depends upon effort and attainment.

But the second sort of knowledge, which is the knowledge of being, is intuitive, it is like the cognizance and consciousness that man has of himself.

For example, the mind and the spirit of man are cognizant of the conditions and states of the members and component parts of the body, and are aware of all the physical sensations… This is the knowledge of being which man realises and perceives for the spirit surrounds the body, and is aware of its sensations and powers. This knowledge is not the outcome of effort and study; it is an existing thing, it is an absolute gift.11Some Answered Questions, page 180.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá then explains that the Manifestations, or Revelators, are distinguished from ordinary men in that they have the subjective (intuitive) knowledge of all things:

Since the Sanctified Realities, the universal Manifestations of God, surround the essence and qualities of the creatures, transcend and contain existing realities and understand all things, therefore their knowledge is divine knowledge, and not acquired: that is to say, it is a holy bounty, it is a divine revelation.12Some Answered Questions, page 180.

In yet another passage, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá puts the matter in the following way:

Know that there are two kinds of knowledge; the knowledge of the essence of a thing, and the knowledge of its qualities. The essence of a thing is known through its qualities, otherwise it is unknown and hidden.

As our knowledge of things, even of created and limited things, is knowledge of their qualities and not of their essence, how is it possible to comprehend in its essence the divine Reality, which is unlimited?13Some Answered Questions, page 255

We might try to sum up, however inadequately, the epistemological implications of these passages in somewhat the following way: human knowledge is the truth which is accessible to man, and this truth is relative because man, the knower, is relative, finite, and limited. There is an absolute reality underlying the multifaceted qualities and experiences accessible to man, but direct access to this reality, direct contact with it, or direct perception of it are forever beyond man’s capabilities. His knowledge is therefore relative and limited only to the knowledge of the various effects produced by this absolute reality. However, if man uses systematically all of the various modes of knowledge available to him, he is assured that his knowledge and understanding, such as it is on its level, will increase.14We have, in effect, a Platonic metaphysics combined with a pragmatic epistemology, the essential connection between the two being the Manifestation. See also note 26.

Positivism and Existentialism

The main purpose of this brief discussion of scientific method is to suggest that a misconception of the nature of scientific method—namely that it is applicable only to more or less concretely accessible material phenomena15Of course it is clear that such things as remote stars and subatomic particles are not immediately accessible, but the refined techniques used to study these are often appealed to as concrete extensions of the immediately accessible, even to the extent of identifying the object of study as being the techniques themselves (operationalism) On the other hand, such examples (and especially the sub-atomic case) can be seen already as a partial refutation to the narrow view of scientific method. Witness the difficulty encountered by positivistic philosophers of science in assimilating the study of these phenomena to the narrow view. and only in a relatively narrow way—has led to the general conclusion on the part of many religionists and scientists that scientific method is not applicable to religion. Depending on what further assumptions are made, one is led to two basic positions which I have labeled positivism and existentialism. There are many variants to each one of these two positions, and so these labels must be understood in a very general, heuristic way.

On the other hand, we may add to the narrow view of scientific method the assumption that scientific method (so construed) is the only valid method of knowledge. One then concludes that religion is not a form of knowledge at all but rather an institutionalized form of superstition, emotionalism, fanaticism, togetherness, or what have you. On the other hand, we may conclude rather that there are methods of knowledge other than the scientific one and appropriate to religion. Religion, in this view, is seen as so deeply private, mystical, and subjective as to be “beyond” scientific method. It is, of course, the first of these views that I have labelled “positivism” and the second “existentialism”. I would like now to discuss briefly each of these positions in an attempt to show exactly why I hold them to be mistaken.

Basically, the positivistic position regards religion as too hopelessly lacking in objectivity to be accessible to scientific treatment. It is true, of course, that the subject matter of religion is more complex than that of, say, physics because it includes more parameters. In the same way, biology is more complex than physics, psychology more complex than either and religion the most complex of all. In this sense, religion is indeed more “subjective” for the presence of many more parameters makes objectivity harder to obtain since the effort to make all parameters explicit is correspondingly much greater. Indeed, this is quite clearly reflected in the historical development of science in which first physics was developed to a fairly high level of objectivity, followed by chemistry, then biology, and now increasingly psychology and sociology.

But it is important to realize, as we have already mentioned in the foregoing, that there is an essential part of subjectivity involved in the application of scientific method in any context. Suppose, for example, that we try to eliminate the subjective element of the notion “red” by agreeing that the term shall be applied only to those objects which give a reading of thus-and-so on a spectroscope. Once this agreement is made, we may still argue sometimes about whether or not the needle really is quite on thus-and-so, and the unbeliever will go away saying that the definition was all wrong in the first place. Though parts of the total context of science may involve highly articulated objectifications, the ultimate roots of understanding lie always in collective human subjectivity and so there is always “room for argument”.

Besides appealing to explicit conventions, formal logic, and the like, positivists have tried to discredit the application of scientific method in religion by insisting on public verifiability as an essential aspect of scientific method. However, a little reflection will easily show that this restriction is arbitrary and in no wise a criterion of scientific method. I offer the following paradigm as an illustration of this point.

A biologist looks through a microscope in his laboratory, sees a certain configuration, and exclaims: “Aha, at last I have the evidence that my theory is correct!” Question: How many people in the world are capable of looking at the configuration and verifying the findings of the biologist? Answer: Very few, almost none, probably only a few specialists in his field. The fact is that the biologist will publish his findings, and a few other qualified individuals will test his results, and if they seem confirmed, the scientific world at large will accept the theory as verified. The positivist might concede this but say: “But if an individual did go through the years of training necessary to understand everything the biologist knows, then the individual could verify the statement. Thus, I admit the statement is not practically verifiable by the public, but it is theoretically verifiable.” But even this is not enough. That fact is that the positivist will be constrained to admit that a great many people may be unable, through lack of intelligence or mental proclivity, ever, in theory, to validate the result. The fact is that the findings are not verifiable by the public at all. The findings can be verified only by individuals capable of assuming and willing to assume the point of view of the researcher. In most instances, this group is a very select one indeed, drawn from those who are members of a community of understanding and who participate in a certain framework of interpretation which is applied to all those subjective experiences which fall within a certain category. More will be said of this further on.

At bottom, the criterion for truth in science is pragmatic. “Does it work the way it says it will?” is the question to be answered. If the theory says that such and such a thing must happen, then does it happen? It is by repeated application of this pragmatic criterion, interlaced with intervening theory, that we gradually build up a model of reality, a collection of true statements. We might try to formulate a general criterion of scientific truth somewhat as follows: We have a right to accept a statement as true when we have tendered it considerably more acceptable than its negation. Proof, in scientific terms, means nothing more than the total process by which we render a statement acceptable by this criterion. Such a proof remains always relative, for it depends on the total context of the statements involved, the implicit and explicit conventions concerning the meaning and operational use of symbols, the experiential component of these statements, and so on. All of these things have their ultimate roots in human subjectivity and are therefore liable to possible revision in the future.

In practice, of course, it often happens that revision comes either from strikingly new and different experiences which demand that we revise our conceptual framework in order to account for them, or else from some unexpected conclusions deduced within the framework itself and which contradict known experiences (the most radical case being that of logical contradictions). But nothing excludes the possibility that revision might come from some subtle interaction of all of these factors in a way which is totally inconceivable to us at present.

In short, I maintain that any sort of formulaic, pseudo-objective characterization of scientific method such as that attempted by various positivistic-minded philosophers cannot truly capture scientific method.16The most well-known attempts are those of the Vienna–Oxford schol typified in Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic, Dover, New York, 1952. Our description of scientific method must remain scientific, i.e. pragmatic, relative, open, etc.

Lacking any such closed, exclusive formula characterization of scientific method, there is no basis on which to limit scientific method in such a way as to exclude its application to religion. Of course, this does not mean that everything that passes for religion is scientific nor does it allow us to say what we will find if we do apply scientific method to religion. My essential contention is simply the following: no known positivistic formulations of or restrictions on the nature of scientific method and which exclude a priori the applicability of scientific method to religion, seem to be justified by the nature of scientific method itself. Furthermore, the nature of scientific method does not appear to lend itself to such formulations or restrictions.

The existentialist position derives its character more from its view of religion than from its view of scientific method. The existentialist might well accept, even readily, that scientific method cannot be applied to religion. But such a contention would not bother him (as it does me) because it only serves to heighten the difference and cleavage between science and religion. For him the very importance of religion derives from its being unsystematic, even chaotic, subjective, private, incommunicable, emotional, etc. For him, the knowledge that religion brings is a mystic or occult knowledge, communicable only to a limited extent and primary through myth, symbol, art and other forms of non-verbal activity.

One extreme form of this position would be to accept completely the positivistic contention that religion is not a form of knowledge, and to view religion primarily as an aesthetic experience of some sort. Otherwise, if religion is viewed as a form of knowledge, it is a form totally different from science, with its own methodology (or lack of methodology), symbols, experiences, etc.

Perhaps, in the last analysis, the difference between the existentialist and the positivist lies not so much in their respective views as to the nature of religion and of science but rather in their difference in attitude towards these perceptions. The positivist values science above religion and sees his narrow interpretation of scientific method, with the consequent exclusion of religion, as purifying science from the unwanted trash of emotionalism and irrationality. The existentialist values religion above science and is just as glad to see religion separated from what he feels to be the soul-stultifying dryness, uniformity, formalism, and mechanization of science. While the positivist is impressed primarily by the efficiency and achievements of science, the existentialist is impressed by the potentialities of the richness of subjective experience. This richness he sees as constituting that which is most truly human and which deserves to be most thoroughly and strenuously developed in man. Since, as he supposed, scientific methods cannot be used to develop this richness, religion must develop methods of its own different from those of science. It is to the development of such methods that the existentialist bends his efforts, and it would never occur to him to try to reconcile religion and science, something which he would regard as impossible in any case.

My sketch here of what I have labeled as the existentialist position is consciously exaggerated at some points, but the logical thrust is clear: the existentialist grants that science cannot be applied to religion, that religion is peculiarly subjective and mystical in a way that makes it necessarily unsystematic and thus inaccessible to science, and he values this subjective aspect of religion above science and its method. He is, therefore, not upset by the cleavage between religion and science (except that he may have existential difficulties living in a world which is currently so dominated by science and its fruits!).

Now, I am as impressed as anyone by the richness of subjective experience, and I certainly feel that if the practice of science, or anything else, is going to lead ultimately to a progressive impoverishment of it, then such practice is dehumanizing and should be abandoned. But I feel that the existentialist position and its variants fall into their particular view of internal experience only by neglecting seriously the collective and social dimension of religion, in short, by considering religion as something which is purely internal to the individual. It is only within such a framework that the subjective aspect of religion can be so isolated from the rest and made to seem as inherently separate from other types of subjective experience, and in particular from that involved in the practice of science itself.

We have already had occasion in the foregoing to appreciate the fact that subjective experience is intimately and irrevocably involved in the practice of science at all levels. Clearly it is more reasonable, then, to view subjective experiences as being ranged on some sort of continuum from less intense to more intense, or from less profound to more profound, or yet some other characterization. As different as may be the experience of seeing a red object on the one hand, and that of mystical ecstasy on the other, they are generically instances of subjective experience before they are specifically anything else. Moreover, the practicing scientist and the mystic, when confronted with the problem of building and communicating conceptual models of their experience, both face essentially the same logical difficulty on their level of experience. For everyone, including the scientist, knows that no amount of explication, verbal or otherwise, can ever exhaust all of the subjective richness of the experience of “red”. Our previous example of the spectroscope shows the nature of the problem involved, and we must further remember that during the long years of science’s evolution, such sophisticated conventional devices were not at hand.

Science has overcome this barrier by creating a community of understanding. Each individual scientist must undergo training of a sort which enables him to participate in the validation of the subjective experience of other members of the scientific community, when this experience falls within a certain range determined by the nature of the particular scientific discipline in question. As we have already seen in the example of the biologist and his microscope, subjective experience is never publicly verifiable. It is verifiable only by those capable of assuming and willing to assume the point of view of the one who has the experience. By maintaining a growing discipline of education and training in science, a community of qualified individuals capable of assuming and willing to assume a certain point of view is gradually evolved. This community gives a framework of interpretation to the individual practicing scientist, and it is the framework of interpretation which alone enables his own work, however brilliant or insightful, to become truly illuminating. No matter how far above the common lot of scientists an Einstein or a Newton may be, he can function significantly only in the context of such a community of understanding. If these same individuals had been born in a desert or in a tropical rainforest, their subjective experience would have fallen within another framework of interpretation and would certainly not have had the same result (though it may have been just as illuminating in its own context).

This model of the objectification of internal experience through creating a community of understanding and a consequent framework of interpretation is borne out by observation and experience, not only of the history and development of science but also of individuals. For example, case histories of individuals blind from birth who were given sight after reaching maturity indicate, as one would expect, that perception is not immediate but has to be painfully and slowly learned. Their first experience is a chaos of sensations with no discernible objects, forms, etc. Gradually, through participation in the framework of interpretation given by the community, perception is born, and order is brought out of chaos.17Comparison might well be made here between such an experience and that of mystics. Perhaps the mystic is initially overwhelmed by the newness and intensity of his first experience and is thus led to feel that it is essentially an irredeemably, chaotic and unsystematic. This would naturally lead to the glorification of the subjective which is characteristic of the existentialist view, as well as to the conviction that mystic experience is essentially non-objectifiable. But it is precisely my suggestion that the building of a religious community of understanding in a scientific way can lead to a relative objectification of mystic experience similar to that effected by the application of scientific method on other levels of experience. The resulting framework of interpretation would allow the individual to proceed from the initial mystic experience to a new stage of spiritual perception or knowledge, again bringing order out of chaos. This model also serves to illumine the relationship between the individual practicant and the community. The individual’s mystic experience is his own and no one else’s, but he has to relate properly to the community if his internal experience is to be of genuine profit to him. At the same time, there is the further benefit to the community itself which profits from harnessing the individual’s spirituality in the form of service.

The neglect of the social dimension of religion is only one aspect of the weakness of the existentialist position. Another aspect comes into focus when we further examine the comparison between the scientific view of subjective experience and the existentialist view. While our discussion of scientific method has led us to acknowledge a certain irreducibility of the subjective input into the epistemological act, it is nevertheless equally clear that our experience, however subjective, of anything, say a red object, is still an experience of something. Even the chaos of sensation that the previously sightless person experiences is a reaction of his subjectivity to something “out there”. It is not simply the mind’s experience of itself (which might be like the sensations of images one has during sleep or when one’s eyes are closed). But the existentialist glorification of the subjective amounts to treating the internal experience of the individual as the datum of religion. Religious experience is thus not viewed as an experience of anything, at least not anything other than the internal self of the individual. Insofar as religion is scientific, it would thus be indistinguishable from psychology, and this again explains the tendency to emphasize the unsystematic, unpredictable, irrational, mythic, and aesthetic aspects of religious experience, for these are the only aspects which, from such a standpoint, can be viewed as properly and specifically religious.

If such a view of religion and religious experience is to be refuted, one must face and answer the basic question “of what is religious experience an experience?” What is religion about? If scientific method can be applied to religion, then what is the datum of religion?

The Bahá’í Faith

The answer which the Bahá’í Faith offers to this central question is, or so it seems to me, particularly cogent, clear and direct. For Bahá’ís, religion is the study of the phenomenon of revelation and religious experience a response to the spirit and teachings of the Revelator or Manifestation. The Bahá’í Faith offers the scientific hypothesis that revelation is a periodic phenomenon of a period of roughly one thousand years. The large number of generations intervening between two occurrences of revelation poses obvious problems for the study of this phenomenon.

However, we cannot refuse to study something simply because the study is hard or because the data associated with it are, in some instances, accessible only with difficulty. Other natural sciences, such as astrophysics, also study periodic phenomena whose periods are much greater than a thousand years and for which the accessibility of data is likewise a problem. Simply, allowances have to be made for the fact that, because of the periods involved, careful records must be kept since the observations which a given individual scientist can make in his lifetime are too limited to form in themselves a basis for the furtherance of the science.

Let us take a brief look at the phenomenon of revelation as it presents itself to us in history, which is man’s collective experience. If we consider the great religious systems of which there still exists some extant manifestation or some historical record, we will see that each has been founded by an historical figure, a unique personage. Islam was founded by Muhammad, Buddhism by Buddha, Christianity by Jesus, Judaism (in its definitive form) by Moses, Zoroastrianism by Zoroaster, and so on. These religious systems have all followed quite similar patterns of development. There is a nucleus of followers gathered around the founder during his lifetime. The founder lays down certain teachings which constitute the principles of his religion. Moreover, each of these founders has made the same claim, namely that the inspiration for his teachings and his influence was due to God and not to human learning or human devices. Each of these founders claimed to be the exponent on earth of an invisible, superhuman, personal God of unlimited power, the creative force (creator) of the universe. After the death of the founder, an early community is formed and the teachings of the founder are incorporated into a book (if no book was written by the founder). And finally a great civilization grows up based on the religious system, a civilization which lasts for many centuries.

All of the statements of the above paragraph are statements with high empirical content and low theoretical content. These are a few facts of religious history. Of course these facts are based on records and observations of past generations. One can try to dispute these records if one chooses, but we must be scientific in any approach we make. In particular, the records of the older religions are of validity equal to any other record of comparable date. If, for example, we refuse to believe that Jesus lived, we must also deny that Socrates lived for we have evidence of precisely the same validity for the existence of both men. The records of Muhammad’s life are much more valid than these and are probably beyond serious dispute. Moreover, if we choose to posit the unreality of the figures whose names are recorded and to whom various teachings and influence are attributed, we must, at the same time, give an alternative explanation for the tremendous influence which these religious systems, elaborated in the name of these founders, have had. This is more difficult than one may be inclined at first to believe.

The major civilizations of history have been associated with the major prophetic religious systems. Zoroastrianism was the religion of the “glory of ancient Persia” the Persia that conquered Babylon, Palestine, Egypt, and the Greek city-states. Judaism was the basis of the great Hebrew culture which some philosophers such as Jaspers regard as the greatest in history. Moreover, Jewish law has formed the basis of common law and jurisprudence in countries all over the world. Western culture, until the rise of modern science, was dominated by Christianity. The great Muslim culture invented algebra and preserved and developed the Hellenistic heritage. It was probably the greatest civilization the world had seen until the rise of the industrial revolution began to transform Western culture.

We are, however, very much in the same position with respect to past revelations as we are with regard to any phenomenon of long period. We were not there to observe Jesus or Muhammad in action. The contemporaries of these people were certainly impressed by them, but these observations were made years ago and are liable, we feel, to embellishments. Even though it may be unscientific to try to explain away the influence of these religious figures, there is still a certain desire to do so. We are put off by certain obvious interpolations, and we are not sure just what to accept and what to reject.

Bahá’ís believe that man’s social evolution is due to the periodic intervention into human affairs of the creative force of the universe by means of the religious founders or “Manifestations”. What is most significant is that the Bahá’í Faith offers fresh empirical evidence, in the person of its own founder, that such a phenomenon has occurred. Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892) claimed to be one of these Manifestations and he reaffirmed the validity of the past revelations (though not necessarily the accuracy of all the details recorded in the ancient books). Here is a figure who walked the earth in recent times and whose history is documented by thousands of records and witnesses. Moreover, the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are preserved in his manuscripts and so we are faced with a record of recent date and one of which there can be no serious doubt.

The only way we can judge Bahá’u’lláh’s fascinating hypothesis that social evolution is due to the influence of the Manifestations is the way we judge any proposition: scientific method. This is the only way we can judge Bahá’u’lláh’s claim to be one of these Manifestations. We must see if these assumptions are consistent with our knowledge of life as a whole. We must see if we can render these assertions considerably more acceptable than their negations. In the case of Bahá’u’lláh, we have many things which we can test empirically. Bahá’u’lláh made predictions. Did they come true? Bahá’u’lláh claimed Divine inspiration. Did he receive formal schooling, and did he exhibit power and knowledge not easily attributable to human sources? He insisted on moral purity. Did he lead a life of moral purity? In his teachings are found statements concerning the nature of the physical world. Has science validated these? He engaged in extensive analysis of the nature of man’s organized social life. Does his analysis accord with our own scientific observations of the same phenomena? He also makes assertions concerning human psychology and subjectivity and invites individuals to test these. Do they work? The possibilities are unlimited.

Of course, the same criteria can be applied to other Manifestations, but the known facts are so much less authenticated and so restricted in number that much direct testing is not possible. This does not disturb Bahá’ís because they believe that, essentially, there is only one religion and that each of the successive revelations is a stage in the development of this one religion. The Bahá’í Faith is thus the contemporary form of religion and we should not be surprised that it is so accessible to the method of contemporary science. Christianity and Islam were probably just as accessible to the scientific methods of their day as is the Bahá’í Faith to modern scientific method.

This relative inaccessibility of data concerning the older religions should not be taken as in any way lessening their importance or value relative to the Bahá’í Faith. The Bahá’í view is that of the absolute unity of religion, not the superiority of one religion over another for whatever reason.18In this regard, Bahá’u’lláh has given the following clear statement: “Beware, O believers in the Unity of God, lest ye be tempted to make any distinction between any of the Manifestations of His Cause, or to discriminate against the signs that have accompanied and proclaimed their Revelation. This indeed is the true meaning of Divine Unity, if ye be of them that apprehend and believe this truth. Be ye assured, moreover, that the works and acts of each and every one of these Manifestations of God, nay whatever pertaineth unto them, and whatsoever they may manifest in the future, are all ordained by God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Whoso maketh the slightest possible difference between their persons, their words, their messages, their acts and manners, hath indeed disbelieved in God, hath repudiated His signs1 and betrayed the Cause of His Messengers”. (Bahá’í World Faith, op. cit., pages 27–28). Nevertheless, if one is talking about applying scientific method to religion, problems such as that of the authenticity of ancient records must be frankly faced and seen in their true light. They must be neither exaggerated out of proportion nor swept under the rug as if they did not matter. Indeed, the best of modern Biblical scholarship, both Christian and Jewish, has been undertaken in this scientific spirit. If it has resulted, in some instances, in the undermining of certain traditional beliefs, it has more fundamentally served to clarify and enlighten the faith of truly informed students of religion. If the doubtfulness of a few passages of the Bible has been exposed, the validity of the basic text has been vindicated (as for example by the corroborative version of Isaiah in the Dead Sea manuscripts).

Each religious system has been founded on the faith in the reality of the phenomenon of revelation, and those people associated with the phenomenon felt fully justified in their faith. But as the influence of religion declined and the facts of revelation receded into history, the sense of conviction of the reality of the phenomenon subsided, and this was only natural as we have seen. It is therefore important to realize that the Bahá’í Faith offers much more than new arguments about the old evidence for the phenomenon of revelation. It offers empirical evidence for the phenomenon and it is frank to base itself on this evidence and to apply the scientific method in understanding the evidence. So much is this so, that I would unhesitatingly say that the residue of subjectivity in the faith of a Bahá’í is no greater than the residue of subjectivity in the faith one has in any well-validated scientific theory. Just as in the example of the biologist and the microscope, the findings of a Bahá’í can be verified by anyone willing to assume and capable of assuming the point of view of a Bahá’í.

According to Bahá’u’lláh, the social purpose of religion is to create an adequate spiritual basis for the progressive unfolding of an ordered social life for mankind. Indeed, as one examines the history of mankind, one can perceive the gradual ordering and re-ordering of man’s collective life on ever higher levels of unity, each new level maintaining the integrity of the previous ones and, at the same time, calling forth from the individual a correspondingly greater degree of altruism and other-centeredness. The family, the tribe, the city-state, and the nation can be seen as significant steps in this social evolution. The first two of these successive stages can be identified in a large measure with the respective revelations of Abraham and Moses, while the latter is due essentially to Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam.19The Revelation of Jesus was primarily focused on the individual, and can be viewed, at least in part, as a counterbalance to the overemphasis on the totalitarian state and to the miserable social conditions and status to which the majority of the recipients of his message were subject.

Bahá’u’lláh explains that, besides the general mission of renewing the spiritual life of men and society, each religion has a specific mission which accomplishes a definite step forward in the total evolution of mankind. He views his own revelation as being the most recent in this succession and as having the unification of mankind as a whole for its specific mission.20Bahá’u’lláh does not claim to be the last of these Messengers, for according to his teachings, the succession will never stop, nor will human and social evolution ever come to a dead end (though the ultimate physical death of the solar system itself seems inevitable according to the best current scientific knowledge) . However, he does state clearly that the next Manifestation will not come before the lapse of a thousand years time.

As one thinks about this progressive unfoldment of human society, one comes to see certain aspects of its mechanism. To begin with, it is clear that unity on one level can eventually become disunity on another; the unity of the family can coexist with disunity between families, for example. When the new level of unity is first attained, it represents a positive step, but the very accretion of power and the increased mastery resulting from the reorganization of society on this higher level can ultimately lead to tensions among these higher order units themselves. This may happen years or centuries, or millenia later, but when it does happen, the suffering caused by these tensions becomes increasingly unbearable and serves as one of the factors generating the motivation to accomplish the next stage of unity. That is, the individuals participating in the social system in question develop a strong sense of, and a need for, the higher unity.21This reflects a fundamental principle of evolutionary phenomena: That which is functional and productive at one stage of the process can become dysfunctional and unproductive at another stage. The same principle can also be applied in attempting to understand the various changes in religious practice wrought by each successive Revelation.

This higher unity is effected not by the suppression of the existing units, but rather by their being harmoniously organized into a higher unit—the unity to the tribe is the unity of families, the unity of a race that of tribes, the unity of a nation that of races, etc. Indeed, the attainment of unity on the lower level has been a necessary prerequisite to its establishment on the higher one. In the same way, Bahá’u’lláh envisages world unity as being a unity among nations, with a world government, a world tribunal, a single auxiliary universal language, and a world economic system.

Just as a tree must push its roots deeper as it grows higher, so must each external step forward have an internal concomitant. The individual must, at each stage, become less self-centered. He must give his loyalty to and identify with an ever-widening circle of his fellow humans. Whereas “brother” first meant physical brother, it gradually came to mean fellow Jew, fellow brother in Christ, fellow countryman, and must ultimately mean fellow world citizen. There is, in short, a gradual increase in the consciousness of the individual, and it is this new consciousness which alone allows the new unity, the new external step forward, to take place on a spiritual basis. This new depth of individual spiritual awareness also serves to increase the quality of unity at all levels. In this way, the creation of the new unity is not a superficial juxtaposition of parts or a purely formal restructuring, but rather a renewal of the whole of the society, and indeed the only way the society can be so renewed at that given stage in its development. Thus Bahá’u’lláh teaches that the establishment of world unity will lead to the perfecting and deepening of the quality of life at all levels of society.

This model also explains why we cannot wait for the lower levels of society to become perfect before working on the establishment of world unity (such an objection of the Bahá’í goal of establishing world unity is frequently heard). The interdependence of the part and the whole is too great for such a piecemeal approach to succeed. Bahá’u’lláh explains that mankind is like a body whose cells and organs are the individual human beings and the smaller social units. If the whole body is ill, every single cell will be affected in some way. At the same time, the whole body suffers to some extent from even a few unhealthy cells. Thus, in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, there are provisions for the organization and restructuring of society on a world level, and there also provisions for the perfecting of social organization on the local and intermediate levels, as well as manifold spiritual aids for the individual in his own effort to spiritualize his life and attain to a new, more universal, consciousness.

Indeed, the individual aspect of religion is just as important and essential as the global, social aspect. This individual component was the point of departure for our whole discussion and so I would like to return to it in closing this essay.

For Bahá’ís, the individual, internal aspect of religion is a direct response to the datum of the Manifestation, his spirit and teachings. It is not simply the mind’s experience of itself or some form of autosuggestion. This is why scientific method can be applied even in this aspect of religion. In the Bahá’í Faith, the individual component of religion takes the form of daily prayer, communion with God, meditation on the words of Bahá’u’lláh, and a constant effort to express one’s developing spirituality through service to mankind. Among the many individual attributes which Bahá’u’lláh mentions as characteristic of the spiritually-minded individual are humility, obedience to the will of God, justice, love, abstention from backbiting and criticism of others, regarding others with a sin-covering eye, and preferring others to oneself in all things.

Bahá’u’lláh stresses that personal spiritual development, the experience of self-transcendence, and the mystic, sense of union with God—all of which have been described and discussed in the world’s mystic literature—these are the fruits only of conscious and deliberate search and struggle. They are not haphazard experiences which we can casually cajole from the universe. They must be consciously sought and practiced as diligently as any scientific or academic discipline. Scientific method, the conscious, systematic, organized, and directed use of our mental faculties, must be employed if we are to be successful in developing spirituality.

Of course, to say that spirituality must be consciously and systematically sought does not imply that it can be reduced to any formula practice, any more than science itself can be so reduced. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has expressed it simply:

Everything of importance in this world demands the close attention of its seeker. The one in pursuit of anything must undergo difficulties and hardships until the object in view is attained and the great success is obtained. This is the case of things pertaining to the world. How much higher is that which concerns the Supreme Concourse!2222. The Divine Art of Living, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill., revised edition, their printing 1970, page, 92

In contemplating the application of scientific method to individual spiritual practice, let us again recall that science never leads to total or absolute objectification of internal experience, for such a thing is simply unobtainable. Moreover, the quality of internal experience involved in the pursuit of spirituality will clearly be infinitely richer than that connected with most other types of activity. In this perspective, emphasis on the aesthetic and the mythic is legitimate, important, and useful, for the gap between any descriptive models of such experience and the experience itself will be correspondingly greater than in other areas, though the basic method remains unchanged.2323. Nothing that I have said in the foregoing should be taken as implying that the aesthetic and emotional aspects of religion should be in any way de-emphasized, neglected, or excised from religion. My contention has been rather that, when religion is excluded from the application of scientific method, the aesthetic and emotional tend to become drastically over-emphasized, as they are then seen as constituting the only datum of religion. But it is my feeling that when one attains a more balanced picture of religion and recognizes its basically cognitive nature, then these other aspects naturally fall into place in a healthy way, neither being indulged or sought for their own sakes on the one hand, nor rejected on the other. I think it is fair to say that many of the excesses witnessed throughout religious history, such as fanaticism, asceticism, mystic thrillseeking, and withdrawal from society, can be largely attributed to the lack of the sort of balanced viewpoint I am seeking to describe. It is interesting to note that Bahá’u’lláh pointedly condemns these specific excesses, as well as others.

Religion is primarily a form of knowing, but the relativity and limitations of our knowledge will be felt even more keenly here than elsewhere. Indeed, it is this self-knowledge, the acute consciousness of these very limitations, which constitutes an important part of our knowledge of God. One of the profoundest truths that the mystic discovers is that the ultimate goal is, not to comprehend, but to be comprehended. The deepest knowledge is attained by the profoundest awareness of our own relative ignorance. Bahá’u’lláh expresses this important truth in the following terms:

Consider the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence of man. Examine thine own self, and behold how thy motion and stillness, they will and purpose, thy sight and hearing, thy sense of smell and power of speech, and whatever else is related to, or transcendeth, thy physical sense or spiritual perceptions, all proceed from, and owe their existence to, this same faculty… Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery to appraise its virtue. Having recognized thy powerlessness to attain to an adequate understanding of that Reality which abideth within thee, thou wilt readily admit the futility of such efforts as may be attempted by thee, or by any of the created things, to fathom the mystery of the Living God, the day Star of unfading glory, the Ancient of everlasting days. This confession of helplessness which mature contemplation must eventually impel every mind to make is in itself the acme of human understanding, and marketh the culmination of man’s development.2424. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, op. cit., pages 164, 165 and 166.

Since, in the Bahá’í view, internal religious experience is not simply the self’s experience of itself, but is a direct response to the datum of the Manifestation, there is consequently a need for a constantly accessible focal point towards which the individual can turn in his pursuit of these individual spiritual goals. This indeed is one of the reasons for the periodic nature of the phenomenon of revelation. Although something of God’s nature can be said to be revealed in every aspect of creation, clearly the force and importance of such a revelation are conditioned by two things, namely, the inherent limitations of the instrument used as a vehicle of revelation, and the accessibility to us of the occurrence of revelation.

Man himself is the most highly-ordered and subtle phenomenon in all the universe known to man. It would thus seem logical that man would be the most perfect available (i.e. least limited) instrument as a vehicle for God’s self-revelation. Hence, the Person of the Manifestation.2525. In this connection, Bahá’u’lláh has said: “…all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them… Man, the noblest and most perfect of all created things, excelleth them all in the intensity of this revelation, and is a fuller expression of its glory. And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished, and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. May, all else besides these Manifestations, leve by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace.” (Gleanings, op cit., p. 178–179). The necessity for the repetition of revelation derives from the condition of accessibility. The length of the period between occurrences, on the other hand, derives from the social nature of religion as described in the foregoing. Simply, it takes a certain time for a Manifestation to become known, His system to become established, and for the specific purpose of His revelation to be accomplished.2626. The crucial role of the Manifestation as the link between the transcendent Absolute Reality and the world of man is expressed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in these words:

The knowledge of the Reality of the Divinity is impossible and unattainable, but the knowledge of the Manifestations of God is the knowledge of God, for the bounties, splendours, and divine attributes are apparent in them. Therefore, if man attains to the knowledge of the Manifestations of God, he will attain to the knowledge of God; and if he be neglectful of the knowledge of the Holy Manifestation, he will be bereft of the knowledge of God. (Some Answered Questions, p. 257–58.)

Conclusions

I feel that the Bahá’í view of religion is exciting in its fundamental assertion of the universality and accessibility of religion and religious experience to the enquiring mind. The existentialist view of religion, as well as other subjective views, see religious experience rather as something which cannot (and perhaps should not) be cultivated, practised and sought systematically. Rather it must strike like lightning for reasons which are never wholly clear or else as the result of some magical or occult practice. Clearly no experience of such an erratic and unstable nature could ever serve as the basis for a progressive society.

Positivism and its variants limit unduly the application of scientific method and fail to see that the essence of the method can be applied to all phenomena and to all aspects of life, including the spiritual.

The ultimate resolution of the religion-science opposition is thus based on a balance and complementarity between the two, involving a better understanding of the nature and universality of scientific method on the one hand, and of the nature and content of that datum which is the phenomenon of revelation on the other. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has expressed admirably the nature of this balance in the following words:

Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism… When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles—and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God.2727. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks: Addresses Given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris in 1911–1912, 11th ed., London, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969, pages 143–146.

By Horace Holley

1.

It was only a few generations ago when the people ceased thinking that man, with the animals and plants, inhabited a world composed of “dead” matter. Life was conceived to be that which could think, feel, move or at least which could grow and reproduce.

As the notion of “life” has become extended until it includes all matter, all substance, and every ingredient and constituent of substance, so has the notion of religion developed until it applies to the whole of man. No longer is religion confined, like a small island in a great sea, to that little area of belief and practice specialized under the influence of a formal creed. It is the entire human life, its conscious and unconscious elements, its personal and social relationships, its affirmations and denials, its triumphs and defeats, its hidden as well as its revealed awareness and action, its unrealized possibility along with its recognized, admitted frustration and impotence.

The real aim of the physical sciences is fulfilled in knowledge of man. The physical and chemical principles discovered in the world have meaning only as they are principles of human life. Man himself is the universe in miniature. Physical science thus becomes part of a larger science of biology, and biological science in turn becomes a chapter in the greater volume of the human science, psychology.

A man’s whole life, and not merely his conscious creedal practice, is his religion. His highest love is conditioned by his profoundest hate; his supreme sacrifice is limited by his unconscious selfishness; his ideals and his daily life are a single reality, one and inseparable.

The social sciences likewise are dependent for their validity on human psychology. When a science calling itself “economics” gives official sanction for cruel indifference; when a science calling itself “politics” finds imperatives for armed frontiers, this lack of agreement between these social sciences and the sanctions of the separate department of human life called “religion” does not mean that men live in three separate worlds, obeying three mutually exclusive “laws” – it means simply that a general failure in the realm of motive and understanding has projected itself outward into society, and this failure men try to conceal from themselves and each other by labelling the anti-religious actions one or another “science.”

But just as these evasions and attempts at concealment in personal life sooner or later come to a balance of accounts with every other element of the personality, so the elaborate myth called “civilization” has now become rent to fragments as the social “sciences” and the formal creeds alike eventuate in a society which as a whole does not know how to survive. It matters not which element of the whole result is made the scapegoat – whether formal “religion” or “economics” or “politics” – the truth is that man himself has failed in his social relationships, and this failure in turn rests upon failure in his relationship to himself. The fictitious separation of life into formal departments, each with an exclusive label, has been an unconscious evasion of reality the final result of which was inevitable from the beginning.

On no other basis can we erect a spiritual knowledge preserving the responsibility on which integrity depends.

 

 

2.

At some definite point of experience, the conscious person comes to realize the oneness of the universe and the wholeness of human personality. His formal religious beliefs undergo profound adjustment as he perceives their artificial separateness from the rest of his existence. Able no longer to isolate “Sunday” from the remaining days of the week, his new sense of cause and effect compels him to fit his religious values into experience as a whole. This adjustment in some cases enhances the whole of life with new spiritual possibility; in other cases what had been a mere artificial belief or practise is destroyed, and life as a whole becomes secular and without spiritual content. The philosophic projection of this awareness is pantheism or atheism – both are based upon an effort to realize the universe as homogeneous, as one. The only difference between pantheism and atheism is that the former raises everything to the “high” level of God, or Spirit, or Providence while the latter reduces everything to the “low” level of matter and natural law.

The similarity between pantheism and atheism is more vital than the difference. Both philosophies establish one single level; both maintain a view of the universe which interprets experience in terms of cause and effect operating on one plane. There is little real distinction between realizing all substance as “God” and realizing all experience as subject to natural law; for both views deprive one of the necessity of making any truly vital choice.

The realization of oneness, in fact, is but a starting point in the search for religion. Religion is distinctiveness as well as universality.

Historically, religion has a definite point of origin. No religion has come into existence without a Founder, a Prophet or Messiah.

Whether one considers Christianity, Judaism, Muhammadanism or any other organic religion historically, what appears is the phenomenon of religion as an experience suddenly interposed into the current stream of human life. This interposition compels the most vital choice or decision which life can offer. It creates a new standard of reality rising like a mountain from the plain of daily intercourse. Its influence sets the individual against his own past, and historically has always made a definite cleavage in the course of civilization. The prophet becomes identified with a higher possibility in the present, which necessarily divides the future from the past. Life tends to become dynamic and assert new directions, while the past exists in the present as inertia.

 

3.

Religious history is meaningless when conceived merely as a time sequence without reference to the fundamental law of cycles. We take for granted the existence of this law whenever dealing with natural phenomena: the cycle of life operating for the tree from seed to fruit, for the human being from birth to death, even for the stars of immensest magnitude. But societies and social institutions seldom or never admit that for their own existence there is also an allotted period, the beginning of which is their birth, the end of which is their destruction, during the course of which they rise to a climax of maturity and power, receding thereafter until eventually they are no more. Tracing this development in Judaism we come to the civilization of Solomon, a glory that could not be retained. In Christianity we have the feudal age, when religion could he completely identified with civilization after which the Reformation destroyed the unity not only of the church but of the civilization as well. Here stands the origin of “modern” times, which actually have been the autumn and winter of faith. On one side has existed an alliance between national state, natural science, industry and militarism; on the other side the tradition of feudal aristocracy, the memory of a living unifying faith, the organization of the church.

Both phases in reality proceeded from the same prior condition. One can not be termed “Christian” and the other “pagan” or “non-Christian” with the slightest historical accuracy. For modern militarism, justified as the necessary virtue of the national state, derives immediately from the Crusades, justified as the necessary virtue of the church. The profit motive, justified as the necessary virtue of industry, derives immediately from the practice of the sale of indulgences, justified as the necessary virtue of the church. If modern science is condemned as “pagan,” a vast power delivered over to the secular realm, it must be recalled that the first faint beginnings of natural science were so resisted by the church that the scientists were compelled to develop their knowledge outside the religious community.

The Reformation, then, merely marks the point at which the historical religion has reaped its harvest, produced its richest fruit; and consequently could no longer maintain its internal unity nor its balance between religion and civilization.

The law of cycles operates in the case of religions and nations no less imperatively than in the case of trees, animals, planets and human beings. This law may for a time appear inoperative where the larger social bodies are concerned, but this is merely for the reason that man has yet attained no adequate sense of historical process, and also because even after a great social institution has died spiritually it can still survive physically for a relatively long period. But when a religion ceases to be the motive and inspiration of civilization, its date of death is recorded in the annals of destiny. And once this spiritual death has taken place, the religion can never be artificially revived.

The “modern” world, striving to transform nationalism into world order, overcome the antagonism of economic classes and reconcile peoples and creeds, is nothing else than a larger example of ancient Rome striving to maintain order, justice and law after its original impulse had ebbed and the creative power had passed from the imperial government to the weak, despised and minority body of Christians, reborn by the mystery of superhuman faith. Our social institutions are more powerful to destroy than to create; no matter how conscientiously administered, without transformation they are vessels not built to outride this time of worldwide storm.

 

4.

When the creative power of spirit is withdrawn from the community as a whole, and the parts of the community engage in mutual struggle for predominance or survival, the life cycle of that social order has run its course.

Such is the nature of the present crisis. The old order was based historically upon Christianity in the West, upon Muhammanadism and other Faiths in the East. Each Faith had, in accordance with the principle underlying human society, developed a characteristic civilization representing a balance between legal, cultural, economic and social factors. All these regional civilizations had arrived at that stage in the cyclic process marked by the weakening of the original religious impulse, which bound the civilization together in one organism, and by the assertion of the superiority of the constituent parts over the whole.

As in Christianity a few centuries ago, so in Muhammadanism today, law, government, education and industry have thrown off the control of the religious tradition and undergone separate development, each seeking a fulfilment in terms of its own independent need and without reference to the general need of the community in its spiritual as well as material integrity. This development is more complete in the West, but the history of Europe since the Reformation has been paralleled in all essentials by the more recent experience of Turkey, Egypt and Iran.

The crucial point in this development is the transfer of social authority from a religious organization, by which it has been fatally abused, to a secular organisation explicitly claiming to be unmoral. At the stage of religious decay where this transfer of authority takes place, the secular government cannot control the entire area previously controlled by the religious influence. The transfer is characterized by the rise of several independent secular governments which divide the body of believers into separate, and potentially competitive nations. Western nationality arose from the spiritual death of Christendom, and the nations of Islam are similarly independent and exclusive.

The next step in the process, which in reality is disintegration and not “progress” except in a local and temporary degree, consists in the reinforcement of the secular (unmoral) authority by such laws and instruments as it deems necessary to protect itself in the rapidly augmenting struggle for national existence. Religion is replaced by patriotism of an exclusive nature, and the social duty of man becomes defense of his national state. Militarism inevitably develops. Compulsory military duty, found necessary as economic rivalry follows the original territorial competition of the states, sets mankind upon the path of death. In the modern world this complete divorce between spiritual and material values, enmeshing human life in a fatal net as economic and social existence come to depend upon struggle and competition rather than upon unity and cooperation, establishes a point of crisis imperilling the race. Authority, power and initiative throughout society are identified with unmoral institutions whose fiat controls a system of destruction well-nigh universal in capacity. On the other hand, the spiritual tradition of each race has become sterile, for ecclesiasticism is the negation of faith.

Such a jungle of competitive nationalism seems to reproduce, in terms of social organizations, the era of the pre-historic monsters marking an early stage in the biological evolution of the world of nature. Forms of life organized almost entirely for offense and defense had little available energy for the kind of response required in a changing world. Evolution left them behind. Their towering strength was their fatal weakness, and in their enormous aggressiveness they had no capacity to survive.

In the same way, the present stage of armed, competitive nationalism is essentially transitory and fugitive. The more aggressive it becomes, the less its capacity to meet social problems the only solution of which is non-aggression – cooperation. The states have waxed powerful upon the poverty of the people; their might is an illusion. They can destroy themselves by one final outburst of general war; or a series of revolutions, each perhaps small and almost unnoted, will evolve from them a type of government intelligent enough to deal with social relationships and moral enough to summon the highest and not the lowest impulses of an evolving race.

The key to future social evolution lies in the capacity for transformation rather than in mere progress and extension along the lines fixed by our prior history. For progress is the law of the cycle, but transformation is the sign that a cycle has run its term and a new age has dawned.

It is evolutionary progress when a form of life becomes larger, or fleeter by adaptation to its environment. This type of progress marks the biological world, where the natural environment is fundamentally constant. Likewise, when the social environment remains fundamentally constant, an institution progresses by growth in ways determined by its original character and aim.

Unlike nature, the social environment is subject to profound alteration. The development of machine production was more than progress from a small tool to a larger tool; it brought about an entirely different kind of society. Action and re-action in an industrialized society are not simply enlargement of the action and re-action of an agricultural, hand-craft society – they respond in quality to a different law. The plane has been raised from physical effort to intelligence.

As long as the simple law of progress applies to human society, the evil will be multiplied along with the good, the destruction will augment by the same ratio as the construction.

The symbol of transformation in the natural world is the organism like the butterfly, which at one stage is an egg, at the next stage is a caterpillar, becomes then a chrysalis in its cocoon, thence emerging as imago, the perfect insect with beautifully coloured wings. Applying the law of simple progress to this organism at any preliminary stage, we would have merely a larger egg, or a greater caterpillar or a larger and stronger cocoon. Metamorphosis is the scientific equivalent of that organic change which takes place in human society at those critical stages marked by the cycles of religion.

It is by no means necessary to contemplate a simple extension into the future of the social agencies dominating this transitional era. The progress of national government into empire is strictly limited by inter-state competition, and the progress of religion into the condition of world empire by any one creed is no less impossible.

 

5.

The impermanence of the several civilizations now existing becomes clear when we give attention to the non-social character of the religions from which they separately sprang.

In the saying, “Give unto Caesar” we are compelled to note that the Founder of Christianity limited His spiritual teaching to persons, to individuals, and refrained from extending that teaching to establish a principle for society. The character and scope of the Christian teaching, at its source, clearly contemplated an era during which individuals were to cultivate a spiritual life, purifying their inner motives and assuming responsibility for their deeds, in contrast to and complete disregard of their social institutions. They were to seek a Kingdom in the realm of the awakened and conscious soul, but the world was Caesar’s and the successors of Caesar.

Moreover, that doctrine, at its source, does not fail to include a social principle alone: it is in essence a doctrine of the “heart” and makes no provision for the life of the mind. It justifies no particular social form, creates a basis for no particular type of social institution, and in nowise explains those aspects of life and the universe which constitute the ends of psychology and philosophy. It renewed man’s inner life, it revealed more fully than ever before the nature of God and the spiritual capacity of human beings; it released a quality of personal relationships on the high plane required to maintain the new vision of the sanctity of life; but Christianity, at its source and in its reality, supports no political principle, sustains no economic theory, outlines no cosmogony, throws no light upon man’s relation to the physical universe, and sanctions no conception of the function of mind.

These organic limitations, posed not by absence of power at the Source but by lack of capacity in the environment and age, mark a cycle whose term was set at its beginning. It signalizes one necessary stage in the evolution of religion, or rather in the upward march of conscious human life, but finality is entirely absent, because the requisite foundation in revealed truth for the wholeness of life was not spiritually established. Unlike a scientific formula, religious truth does not continue indefinitely and independent of the way it is applied. While a chemical action can be employed for good or evil ends with equal efficiency, a spiritual truth, to possess validity, must include the vital element represented by the believer’s quality of response. When the quality of response has fallen below the level of the aim implied in the truth, the truth becomes void of influence. The living impulse sent forth from its Source has been expended; what remains is a form of words, a lifeless symbol, a ceremony possessing psychic but not spiritual effect.

Civilization is the outworking of spiritual faith. That faith inspires fresh courage, removes the barriers of personality and groups, stimulates the mind to solve necessary problems from the point of view of the society as a whole, establishes a foundation of human reality raised above the bestial struggle for existence, and enables mankind to take one more forward step in its progress upon the eternal path.

There is, however, no historical permanence for any civilization equivalent to the universality of revelation upon the plane of soul. Until mankind is united within one true faith and within one order of justice and knowledge, the need of the renewal and enlargement of spiritual truth is manifest to all.

 

6.

The external surface of human life, as recorded by sympathetic observers in every country, has become marked by appalling personal misery. Its innumerable details constitute a catalog which oppresses the heart like a Book of Doom. By war, by influenza, by poverty and by revolution a vast number of people have been reduced to a narrow margin of existence we thought had been left behind with the memories of the stone age before history began.

But this external surface does not reflect the entire content of modern life. The observer who concentrates all his attention upon the evidences of misfortune and suffering must be balanced by those who look with equal clarity beneath physical evidence to the inner surface and the foundations upon which human life is established. The world of the mind is rich with infinite possibilities, in tragic contrast to the poverty of the world of the body.

From the world of truth, as from an inexhaustible mine, we have derived truly miraculous reinforcement for the feeble body in its eternal struggle against the environment of nature. No longer need human aspiration and will be limited in fulfillment by the inadequate tool of hand and arm, directed by the inaccurate and incomplete guidance of the five physical senses. Mechanisms as sensitive as thought itself, as powerful as human ambition requires, stand as servants ready to carry out any material command. However far imagination may fly ahead, it can reach no ultimate limit beyond which the creative thought of the race dare not go.

But these two worlds, the world of body and the world of mind, though man lives native in both, appear to co-exist independently, in a relationship which is a separation no less than it is a contact. The scientist’s achievement in the form of truth has no human equivalent in the form of social security. The inventor’s technic has complicated existence but multiplied poverty. The world of truth is the modern Tantalus cup, offering what life cannot receive, even while it is likened to the slave of the lamp, fulfilling every command.

Social systems and programs devised during the last hundred years have one and all been efforts to confirm the contact and overcome the separation between the world of truth and the world of human experience. They have sought to mediate between the possibility of mind and the actuality of social need. What thought has accomplished in efficiency of mechanism it has endeavored to duplicate in efficiency of human relations. But every system and program combining the possibility of scientific truth with the social ingredient of human nature has produced not order but an increase of conflict. What appears perfectly fused in the crucible of abstract speculation reasserts its duality when put to the test of life. Socialism, communism, capitalism fundamentalist or reformed—all these systems alike—are unmistakably incapable of reconciling and blending the worlds of body and mind, the truths of science and society. The more that arbitrary power is applied to compel their acceptance as programs, the more explosive becomes the reaction of the human nature coerced in the name of efficiency and truth. Ours is not the first civilization to be brought to an end by mental capacity devoid of spiritual truth.

The unescapable historic fact is that the mediator between universe and humanity, the link between the world of truth and the world of social experience, has never been the speculative mind but the Prophet. The mind discovers only that which it seeks; its voyages of exploration bring back only that reality which can be confined in the small cage of material reason. The universe is not such captive truth, such mastered knowledge. The universe is the Will above and beyond man’s physical will; that Will by which man must become and not merely possess, by which man must serve and not merely enslave to himself. The life and words of a Moses, a Jesus, a Muhammad, by the spirit inspiring them are truth. Within that truth, since it contains man and is not merely man’s exploitation of what he contains, the life of the race is secure and progressive. Outside that truth, human existence moves ever toward destruction; for the Prophet is truth in that form in which it applies to the life of mankind.

By each Prophet is established a new civilization, because each Prophet establishes a spiritual world for the soul not less real than the nature which is the world of the body. The modern age, in all its social relationships, lies outside the spiritual world. Hence its agony, its frustration physical and mental, the degradation of an unrepentant Prodigal Son.

 

7.

Never has there been such a time of sincere, whole-hearted searching for a foundation grounded not upon secondary, temporary historical events and developments but upon the nature of the universe itself.

This age, in its spirit, feels nearer to the ancient Prophets than has any generation since the first generation of believers laid down their lives that the divine Cause might prevail. Not in Christendom alone, but in the other existing civilizations, the appeal to the pure manifestation of love and wisdom, the racial Prophet, has become for many the last refuge of hope that human life can endure, can be meaningful and blessed upon this troubled earth.

Between themselves and that radiant Source of hope they feel the long centuries of strife and ignorance fading to the unreality of a frantic dream. Let mankind, they cry from the depths of their souls, let mankind make a new beginning; let life rest upon the sure foundation of the Divine will; let us become transformed, renewed with a new spirit, and in that spirit proceed to transform all things which are in denial of or in conflict with that eternal will. The nations hurry to destruction, they lament, when vision perishes. From this undying flame let our hearts and minds be kindled with the fire of love.

As the crisis persists, this call, feeble at first, becomes louder and more assured. First a personal attitude, then a social movement, gathering force and momentum, the going back to the Prophet now represents a mighty psychological crusade paralleling the physical crusades of medieval times.

To what degree can this movement be fulfilled?

The Prophet himself made a fundamental condition, that those who sought to follow him should abandon their goods, their wealth, and walk in his path. This was said to a rich man’s son, but does it not apply likewise to those who have inherited goods and wealth in the realm of mind? Does it not mean that those who seek to return today must abandon their acquired culture, their traditional philosophy, their ecclesiastical institutions, their rites and ceremonies, their pomp of church and churchly power? Either it means this, or it means nothing at all, for the Prophet was not slain by the materially rich of his day, he was slain by order of the established church.

For Christendom, surely, the sincerity of all effort to establish life upon Divine rather than upon human will must be tested by conformity to the conditions its own Prophet laid down. When the churches voluntarily disband, and people of all denominations and sects seek the Prophet upon absolutely equal terms, then, and then alone, will this psychological crusade reach the Holy Land. As long as certain individual believers alone fulfil this test, the movement will not affect the vital problems of civilization but remain in the limited realm of personal experience. It may produce a beautiful literature; it will not carry civilization outside its captivity to the lords of war.

There is also, it would appear, another essential condition to be met in this poignant appeal from the world to God: the recognition that other races likewise had their Prophets, their revelations of the Divine will. For without such recognition, the crusade goes hostile and armed, a challenge to battle and not a conquest of universal peace. These two conditions—at root one condition seen in two different aspects—may fairly be said to be so difficult of realization as to be highly improbable, if not impossible, at least without one single precedent in human history. Rivers flow downhill; and the water once descended from its spring does not return.

 

8.

A contemporary historian remarks that the old world has died, but a new world has not yet been born. This view is no doubt the expression of an attitude which has come to prevail among many thoughtful people over a wide social area. It perceives that the foundation of the civilization existing prior to the European War cannot be rebuilt; it realizes to the full the present instability of conditions and the lack of agreement among aims and programs; it frankly admits that the future, both in general trend and in outline, is concealed from the rational mind. Its clarity of analysis of the past is matched by its incapacity for synthesis directed toward the future.

What emerges from consideration of this frank and sincere assertion is awareness of the artificial limitation assumed by the rational intelligence in dealing with the process of human history. By the phrase “old world” and “new world” it means civilization as formal institutions and established habits, and thereby overlooks the significant fact that civilization is an effect and not primarily a cause.

For civilization, long before it emerges in formal institutions, exists as an aspiration of the heart, as an ideal to be pursued and fulfilled by every faculty of mind and soul. It is only when human aspiration and ideal, shared by a considerable group or community, has gathered force and thrust through to the plane of social action, that civilization actually begins. Without this preliminary period of spiritual action, no civilization has ever become manifest. That period is to the later formal institutions and habits and doctrines as the root to the visible tree. Though the entire tree is potentially present in the seed, the great trunk and the widespread branches are contingent upon a period of prior and invisible growth within the soil.

To complete the thoughtful statement uttered by the historian, it is necessary to seek for the future “world” not in different programs and expedients adopted by the institutions of the dead “world” but in evidences of a spiritual life intense enough, universal enough, to establish within humanity that inner power required to raise the trunk and spread forth the branches of a tree whose fruit shall be universal peace.

World order, it is clear, represents a goal which includes the reconciliation of two values or ideals: the spiritual value of human brotherhood, and the social value of a united, an organic civilization. Without a firm and enduring basis in moral unity, the institutions of society, no matter how far extended, cannot alone produce peace but will remain as centers of disunity and strife. On the other hand, those instinctive anarchists who preach a “brotherhood” conceived as absence of governmental institutions are naïve and immature. Society without institutions would be a body without vital organs capable of expressing its various capacities and maintaining its existence.

These two values—humanity and civilization—have never been reconciled and united within the brief historic period known to the present age. We have had races but not mankind, cultures but not spiritual knowledge, nations but not civilization, and religions but not a brotherhood embracing the earth. We therefore approach the vital problem of world peace without experience of what world peace really is. World order—the goal of human evolution—cannot rightly be conceived as a mere truce or treaty between groups or institutions each born of past strife and discord, each cherishing a secret or avowed superiority and each committed to an ideal of sovereignty incompatible with the needs of permanent peace. Nor can world order be effectively upheld on terms of “non-cooperation” with existing agencies responsible for the little public order which now remains. Peace does not consist in abhorrence of war but in maintaining a steadfast conviction that the end of faith is human unity and the fulfilment of intelligence is a new social form, worldwide in scope and superior to the local forms which can no longer protect mankind and serve its highest interests.

In addition to a political world order, the attainment of universal peace involves:

  1. The harmony and cooperation of races.
  2. The unity of religions in a world faith.
  3. An economic world order in which capital and labor are conjoined in a relationship of partners and not competitors.
  4. Compulsory education throughout the world, and an education grounded in universal ethics and adapted so as to prepare every child for a useful trade, art or profession.
  5. A universal secondary language.

Compared to these organic aims, the peace efforts aimed at occasional details such as reduction of armaments or the signing of new treaties are insignificant. The character of this age is wholly new. It is charged with a spirit of transformation superficially violent but in reality constructive. The whole problem of world order consists in attaining an attitude of reverence and humility to that creative spirit.

The principles briefly stated here were promulgated more than twenty years ago by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in whom the spirit of the age found its most faithful interpreter and its noblest exemplar. He declared that humanity is entering upon its period of maturity, when powers will be given the world to achieve an organic unity never possible in any previous age. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made the enjoyment of these powers conditional upon purity of motive and acceptance of the oneness of mankind. Not for the people of prejudice and division, not for the organized selfishness of the rich nor the organized envy of the poor, but for those who have become truly human the day of universal peace has dawned. The way backward has become a door that is forever closed. Revolutions and wars bring no lasting fruit; arbitrary social laws, divorced from human values, bring no true security nor repose. The world needs a central point of inspiration raised above the clamors of history, a divine element, to supply a foundation for the latent unity within all people of good will.

“The foundations of all the divine religions are peace and agreement, but misunderstandings and ignorance have developed. If these are caused to disappear you will see that all the religious agencies will work for peace and promulgate the oneness of humankind. For the foundation of all is reality, and reality is not multiple or divisible. His Holiness Moses founded it, His Holiness Jesus raised its tent, and its brilliant light has shone forth in all the regions. His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed this one reality and spread the message of the ‘Most Great Peace.’”

By Louis Gregory

Scientific Aspects

The world today is making many discoveries in the realm of phenomena. The greatest of these concerns man himself, the laws which relate to his being and those which govern his relations with his fellow beings. Although many glooms and shadows still sway the minds of men, yet two great lights are shining with increasing splendor. One is science and the other religion. Through these luminous orbs men are coming to know each other better than they have ever known through past ages.

A century or more ago men with few exceptions accepted the dogma of eternal division and separation between various human stocks, which were regarded as distinct human species. This gave to any one of them the right by virtue of its material might to a station of inherent superiority conferred by Divine Power.

A few men of genius saw differently. One of these rare souls was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. It is altogether remarkable that writing at a time when special privilege was enthroned and human slavery was sanctioned by the laws of all lands, he should have declared it to be self-evident that all men were created free and equal. Was this statement an accident? Was it not his intention to imply that all white men were equal?

No, that the great principle declared by the American Commoner was not on his part fortuitous is indicated by a further statement as well as by his personal attitude toward Benjamin Banneker, the Negro astronomer, who was his contemporary and by him was appointed as one of the surveyors of the site of the city of Washington. Writing about his colored scientist to one of his foreign friends, President Jefferson said:

“We have now in the United States a Negro, the son of a black man born in Africa and a black woman born in the United States, who is a very respectable mathematician. I procured him to be employed under one of our chief directors in laying out the new federal city on the Potomac, and in the intervals of his leisure while on the work, he made an almanac for the same year which he has sent me in his own handwriting… I have seen elegant solutions of geometrical problems by him. Add to this that he is a worthy and respectable member of society. He is a free man. I shall be delighted to see these instances of moral eminence so multiplied as to prove that the want of talents observed in them is merely the effect of their degraded condition and not proceeding from any difference of the structure of the parts upon which intellect depends.”

Were Thomas Jefferson living today he might be classed with the school of modern scientists known as the cultural anthropologists. A hundred years ahead of his time he saw and proclaimed a great truth.

The scientific world today records numberless thinkers of like convictions and among the great naturalists a decided and irresistible trend toward the law of one humanity and the equality of all races.

Of old the human family was arbitrarily divided into five races, so-called, growing out of the existence of five habitable continents. Men in their fancies associated a difference race with each continent. But scientific minds, even in the middle of the last century, did not agree upon this. Charles Darwin, perhaps the most famous of them all, records in his “Origin of Species,” the views of a dozen scientists whose classifications of humanity into races in no two cases agree and cover divisions of race varieties ranging from two to sixty-three! Darwin himself freely admits the illusory and imaginary nature of these divisions of mankind, and declares that the way supposedly different races overlap and shade off into each other completely baffles the scientific mind in constructing a definition of race.

Because the term “races” continues to be used as designating distinct stocks or divisions of the human family, we shall here employ it. But it must be understood that its use is popular and colloquial rather than scientific and accurate. Definition implies a limitation. Logically it must be both inclusive of the thing defined and exclusive of all else. The difficulty arises, when we attempt to define race as a limited portion of the human family upon the basis of distinct physical characteristics, that the description invariably applies with equal accuracy to no inconsiderable number of other people not sought to be included in the said category. The divisions of mankind upon the basis of physical features are due to fancy rather than reality. Attempts to describe with any degree of accuracy those designated by such terms as Aryan, Mongolian, India, African, Malay, Nordic, Hebrew, negro, invariably result in cross divisions, because all these groups overlap, and even when we select the most divergent types, as human beings they show vastly more points in common than signs of difference. The term “race” as applied to all mankind has a scientific and logical basis, but no so in its limited sense.

The historical records of mankind cover a very small portion of the vast period during which this earth has been populated. Yet even during that brief period the peoples of each continent have emigrated to other continents, associating with others and invariably mixing their blood. It is now universally known that the products of such admixtures are equally virile and fertile. This is a further indication that all races possess the same potentialities. Asiatics and Australians, Europeans and Africans, North and South Americans, to the ethnologist all present signs of admixture, a process through which all have been broadened and made more rugged and strong. All the so-called races of mankind are mixed races, the mixing being a process which continues more rapidly today than in past cycles and ages.

It is also seen that among the various ethnic groups denominated races, each at some time during the brief period of recorded history, has been in the ascendency. Each has in turn led the civilization of the world and each has at the time of its greatest success assumed that its superiority was fixed.

“Is not this great Babylon which I have built and must it not endure forever?”

The attitude of mind expressed by the words of an ancient king who came to grief through pride is as old as human error and as modern as the latest fashion show. Those who see the common humanity of all groups relieve themselves of a great burden imposed by thoughts of preference. For while it is true that some peoples at various times have advanced further than others, to the eye of reality this implies no inherent incapacity, but only lack of development.

In appearance the child is inferior to the adult, but the future may unfold another story. Wisdom looks with reverence upon the child who has that within his being the unfolding of which may make him the ruler of his kind.

The history of mankind unfolds an endless panorama of change. The most favored of races and nations have often lost their high estate. The most ill-favored of one cycle have sometimes in another period become the salt of the earth. To those who see humanity as one, apparent inequalities have no essential permanence.

However much opinions and emotions and customs may dominate human thoughts, the scientific world of today which reaches conclusions upon the basis of facts, is entirely agreed that there is no proof to establish the superiority of one racial group over another.

The backwardness of races and nations is due to poverty, ignorance, oppression, unfavorable environment, and similar conditions, all of which are subject to removal and change, releasing the forces of true manhood for ascent to the highest plane.

It is perhaps of greatest interest here to let those who speak with authority express their own convictions upon the basis of provable facts.

Sir Arthur Keith, the great English anthropologist, says:

“The expression high and low does not apply to races.”

Dr. Gordon Munroe, lecturer in Tokyo University, Japan:

“Modern anthropologists despair of finding distinctive races and are now generally agreed that difference of race is too illusive for scientific observation. Racial difference is mythical, though each individual – as a distinct expression of cosmic thought – differs in some degree from all his fellows, even to the skin of his finger tips.

“Nothing betrays the darkness of ignorance more than the arrogant assumption that pigmentation of skin brands its owner with obscurity of moral perception or darkened intellect, or in any way implies the co-existence of inferior physical traits… Like all exhibitions of prejudice, that of classification by skin color is illogical and inconsistent.

“It is sounding a discrepant note against the harmony of the spheres to call human color inferior or unclean. Not by darkness of skin but by darkness of soul shall humanity be judged in future ages.”

Dr. George A. Dorsey in his book, “Why We Behave Like Human Beings”:

“All human beings have skin pigment; it is the amount that counts. But high and low skin color is as sound biology as grading planets by color would be sound astronomy: Venus highest because whitest!

“There is no known fact of human anatomy or physiology which implies that capacity for culture or civilization or intelligence or capacity for culture inheres in this race or that type.

“We have no classification of men based upon stature, skin color, hair form, head form, proportions of limbs, etc., so correlated that they fit one race and one only.

“Nature is not so prejudiced as we are. She says there is a human race, that all human beings are of the genus homo species sapiens. She draws no color line in the human or other species.”

Prof. G. H. Esterbrook of Colgate University, considering the question of racial inferiority in a recent number of the inferiority in a recent number of the “American Anthropologist,” states that “there is no scientific basis for any such deduction.

“Again and again” he writes, “we have seen the case of a race or nation being despised, outcast, or barbarian in one generation and demonstrating that it is capable of high culture the next.”

Prof. E. B. Reuter, University of Iowa: “The doctrine of racial inequality is pretty well discredited in the world of scholarship, but in the popular thought of America it is firmly fixed.”

Dr. W. E. Burghardt Dubois, Editor of “The Crisis”: “The increasingly certain dictum of science is that there are no ‘races’ in any exact scientific sense; that no measurements of human beings, of bodily development, of head form, of color and hair, of physiological reactions, have succeeded in dividing mankind into different recognizable groups: that so-called ‘pure’ races seldom if ever exist and that all present mankind, the world over, are ‘mixed’ so far as the so-called racial characteristics are concerned.”

Prof. Edwin Grant Conklin, Chair of Biology, Princeton University: “With increasing means of communication as a result of migration and commercial relations, there is no longer complete geographical isolation for any people and the various races of mankind are being brought into closer and closer contact.

“Man is now engaged in undoing the work of hundreds of centuries, if in the beginning, ‘God made of one blood all nations of men,’ it is evident that man is now making of all nations one blood.”

Prof. Franz Boaz of Columbia University, in his recent book, “Anthropology and Modern Life”: “What we nowadays call a race of man consists of groups of individuals in which descent from common ancestors cannot be proved.

“If we were to select the most intelligent, imaginative, energetic and emotionally stable third of mankind, all races would be represented. The mere fact that a person is a healthy European or a blond European would not be proof that he would belong to this élite. Nobody has ever given proof that the mixed descendants of such a select group would be inferior.”

These are but a few quotations from scientific sources to illustrate the modern trend. Even a superficial inquiry into the question of human unity and the potential equality of all groups discloses a wealth of thought based upon factual values.

To conclude that people because uneducated cannot be educated, is a rash presumption indeed. When Julius Caesar conquered Britain he found the most revolting forms of savagery, including the practice of cannibalism; yet these people in part form the background of one of the most enlightened nations of today.

It is quite easy to imagine a Roman statesman of two thousand years ago saying, “Rome is the Eternal City! All other peoples from their inherent incapacity for rule must forever be her servitors and slaves!”

But what can intelligence tests prove of inherent capacity unless those subjected to them have had equal advantages in the way of environment and preparation? Where dollars are spent upon the education of one race and pennies upon that of another, obviously all such tests are misleading.

In a recent number of the “American Anthropologist,” Dr. G. H. Esterbrook remarks the extreme difficulty of measuring the intelligence of groups other than ourselves due to differences of culture, customs and language. This he illustrates by certain tests applied in the Philippine Islands in which it appeared that “the Filipinos were three years behind Americans in verbal tests (obviously due to the Spanish speaking natives being under the disadvantage of grappling with English), practically equal to the Americans in nonverbal tests and actually ahead of them in certain forms of mathematical ability.”

Apropos of the intelligence tests a question which may not be impertinent is, what value has intelligence in the absence of moral stamina? In the application of the intelligence tests what test is applied to determine this necessary concomitant of success?

The belief current in some circles that a long period of time, perhaps a thousand years, must elapse before people deprived of civilization can truly respond to its urge is unfounded in fact. Orientals whose background is different in numberless ways from that of the West appear in numbers at many of our great universities and with equal readiness with American youth acquire the arts and sciences. Youth taken from the African jungles with an age-long heritage of savagery have not only held their own in schools with students of light hue, but have ofttimes won high honors. The writer has met many native Africans whose virtues, attainments and polish do credit to the human race. It is clearly our duty to encourage people of all races to the end of making their contributions to the symposium of world culture.

 

Religious and Spiritual Aspects

The nineteenth century saw human slavery, as an institution sanctioned by law, banished from all civilized communities. The twentieth century sees the evolution of a new kind of freedom, one of which liberates minds from hoary superstitions and ancient dogmas, one which vibrates with the consciousness of a common humanity. Men now see as never before that class tyranny brings unhappiness to the aggressor no less than to the victim.

The spread of the social sciences is bringing enlightening contacts among people of all races and nations. All the races of mankind, no matter how delayed their development in some cases may be, with encouragement, opportunity, sympathy and understanding, may attain the heights.

The colored philosopher and educator, the late Booker Washington, in his autobiography, recalled that during his boyhood he sometime engaged in wrestling. On such occasions he observed that if he threw another boy to the ground, if he held him there he would be compelled to stay down with him; but if he arose the other boy would also rise. So his motto was, “All men up! No one down!” Such is the true philosophy of life.

Among the early white settlers of America was at least one group that regarded the red aborigines as being worthy of the treatment of men. In Pennsylvania under the guidance of William Penn, white and red men entered into a bond of mutual trust that was not to be sundered as long as the sun should give light. This colony was thus saved from the bloodshed which disgraced most of the others. It seems a natural sequence that today the largest school supported by the American government for the training of Indians should be on the soil of Pennsylvania, a commonwealth through upholding its standards of justice to men of all races.

In the memoirs of General U. S. Grant he relates how once when visiting the outposts of his army on Southern soil, a call was raised, “Make way for the commanding general of the army, General Grant!” To his surprise he saw himself surrounded by Confederate soldiers who had raised this call. Although these men were a part of an army with which his own was constantly fighting, yet these troops saluted him and made no attempt to capture him or do him bodily harm.

It had so happened that for some days the outposts of the two armies, Federal and Confederate, had touched each other and the soldiers on both sides, free from rancor, had become entirely friendly, exchanged what they possessed of the comforts of life as well as its amenities and were accustomed to salute each other’s officers when they appeared. In the early days of the great war a similar condition of friendliness appeared among the soldiers of the contending armies in France.

If men engaged in deadly conflict can pause long enough to discover and act upon the basis of their common humanity, certainly the forces of peace should strive for the means of making it durable, and in this nothing is more desirable than a farewell to class tyranny and the banishment of what the sociologist calls the superiority complex from all the world. The light of science powerfully aids this.

Among the youth of the world there is a great and continuous awakening to the need of friendliness and co-operation among all races and nations. Recently, among many incidents of a similar nature, the writer had the pleasure of mingling with an inter-racial and inter-national group of students made up of representatives of John Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, the University of Delaware, Morgan College and Howard University.

Their faces shone with happiness as from the standpoint of biology, sociology, anthropology and genetics they discussed, almost without dissenting voice, the potential equality of all races and the desirability of their mingling freely without prejudice in all the activities and amenities of life.

With the usual naïveté, charm and courage of youth, they seemed to care nothing about what their elders, who were wrapped up in the traditions of the past, might think of their present acts and attitudes. And they had summoned to their gathering three modernist and learned scientists to confirm them in their thoughts. Thus the orb of science beams with increasing brilliancy upon a growing world of thought and discovery.

This light of science is but the reflection of a far “greater and more glorious Light” that has appeared with majestic splendor in the world today. This second light is Religion pure and undefiled from the Throne of God, or Temple of Manifestation.

The Bahá’í Revelation is the divine intervention in human affairs. Its ideals, teachings and principles will remove the superstitions that pall, the hatreds that blight, the prejudices that becloud, and that preparation for the slaughter that now threatens the existence of all humanity.

Clearer than the deductions of science, weightier than the might of princes, wiser than the councils of statesmen, kinder than the hearts of philanthropists, and sweeter than the songs of seraphs is the Voice of God, calling all mankind to the unity of the human family, the oneness of the world of humanity. This is the true guidance of all men in their relationship with their fellows, whether they be of the same race or nation of others. The great law of universal well-being and happiness is set forth with a simplicity, purity, majesty and power which leaves no one in doubt.

“Verily the words which have descended from the heaven of the will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences and welcome all with the light of oneness.”

Those who move in the direction of the Divine Will as expressed by the Manifestation of God, His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, have the mightiest confirmation to support their efforts and are assured of victory, no matter how difficult the way may seem. A distinguished Southern educator who heard the Servant of God, His Holiness ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, address the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference in 1912, quotes Him as opening His luminous address by saying:

“From time immemorial we have been taught the Unity of God, the Unity of God, the Unity of God! But in this day the divine lesson is the unity of man, the unity of man, the unity of man!”

Dr. Samuel C. Mitchell declared that from listening to this holy man whom he recognized as a Prophet, he had decided for himself never again to draw a vertical line upon his fellow-men. The great horizon line which covers all mankind, is sufficient for him. How happily does this illustrate the power and penetration of the Creative Word, that it should raise up from a single utterance one who has declared and reechoed it upon many platforms.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “God has made mankind one family: no race is superior to another…God is the Shepherd of all and we are His flock. There are not many races. There is only one race.”

Although the Sun of Truth is still largely hidden, “veiled by its own splendor,” yet its rays are penetrating the remotest corners of the earth, creating in souls a consciousness which binds all hearts together. Common sense and reason are explaining away the barriers of color which are caused by adjustment of people to climatic states over long periods of time. Scientists in many fields of research are thrilled by the discovery of a common human heritage which they sometimes boldly declare in words similar to those found in the sacred text. Statesmen, national and international, are making the Divine Spirit the foundation upon which they are striving to build a new social structure with justice to all, while in growing numbers people who take religion seriously are finding heart balm through their helpful interest in other people’s affairs.

Some years ago the venerable Bishop of Georgia, Rt. Rev. Atticus G. Haygood, amazed his followers by boldly declaring in his book, “Out Brother in Black,” that no attainment of the white race was impossible for the colored.

Governor Charles Aycock of North Carolina inaugurated a policy of large expenditure for education that would help white and black upon this basis:

“We hold our title to power by the tenure of service to God, and if we fail to administer equal and exact justice to the Negro we shall in the fullness of time lose power ourselves, for we must know that the God who is love, trusts no people with authority for the purpose of enabling them to do injustice.”

Although the strongholds of prejudice seem invincible, the clouds of superstitions lower, the veils of ignorance overshadow and the resources of rancor prepare for the strife, yet upon the plane of being the Sun of Truth is radiant and will remove in time all dust from minds and all rust from hearts, to the end that the true Glory of God and the brightness of man may appear in the unity of the world. The shadows of the sunset and the glory of the dawn are both revealed in the Words that follow from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

“It is very strange to see how ‘illusion’ has taken possession of the hearts of men while ‘Reality’ has no sway whatsoever. For example – racial difference is an optical illusion! It is a figment of imagination, yet how deep-seated and powerful its influence! No one can deny the fact that mankind in toto are the progeny of Adam; that they are offshoots of one primal stock, yet the optical illusion has so radically misrepresented this plain truth that they have divided and subdivided themselves into so many tribes and nations… Although many intelligent men amongst them know that this racial difference is an optical illusion, yet they all confess their inability to stand firm before its uncanny, invisible power.

“The world of humanity is like unto one kindred and one family. Because of the climatic conditions of the zones through the passing ages colors have become different. In the torrid zone on account of the intensity of the effect of the sun throughout the ages the dark race appeared. In the frigid zone on account of the severity of the cold and the ineffectiveness of the heat the white race appeared. In the temperate zone the yellow, brown and red races came into existence. But in reality mankind is one race. Because it is one race unquestionably there must be union and harmony and no separation or discord.

“The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the breaths of the Holy Spirit which create men anew. Personal amity, both in private and public, is emphasized and insisted upon.

…Bahá’ís believe that mankind must love mankind; that universal amity must be practiced; that dead dogmas must be thrown away; that we are at the threshold of the Era of Interdependence; that we must forget prejudice and that universal love must become the dominant note of the twentieth century… The tree of humanity is one and is planted by God. The origin is one and the end must also be one.”

Thus it is clearly establish through both religion and science that the only race is the human race. The illuminati of all groups today, upon the basis of divine principle of the oneness of humanity, are working to build a new order in the world. Their ranks are widening day by day and among them are included all branches of the human family. They have crossed the borderland of separation and view with delight the world of unity. With reverence and appreciation they perceive the descent of heavenly guidance. In the sacred books of the past this divine favor is pictured as the Holy City.

The cities of the world today present to the gaze of the traveler striking contrasts between old and new. In days of yore the construction of homes was in the nature of a castle. Each house was defended by a high fence or wall, behind which dogs barked furiously at all who approached, who were presumably foes until otherwise proven. Such places did not lack beauty. Nor were passers-by always wanting in charm. But in each case the beauty and charm were hidden by defensive battlements. Such are the cities of hearts when their love is concealed by the battlements erected by superstition and fear. In many of the new cities the absence of walls reveals velvet lawns and the varied charm of flowers. The adornments of the home, the sport of the children, the family co-operation in simple toil, create impressions of friendliness and accentuate the joy of life.

Those who visualize the City of God have faith in the final outcome of human destiny through a love that transcends all boundaries of race. Herein lies joy to the worker whose toil is linked with heaven as he serves mankind en masse as well as singly. Peace to the nations when ready to pursue those ideals that guide the people of splendor. Perfection in education when the youth are allowed to treasure the jewels of minds and hearts despite the obstinate barriers of caste. Wealth for governments when the huge sums now given to armaments are by common consent turned into channels of construction. Solace for the needy when deserts are irrigated, waste places reclaimed, slums removed, the deep yields its coffers and the earth its fruits. Illumination to humanity when every man sees in his neighbor a garment in which God has clothed the reflection of the Manifestation of Himself. Glory for the whole world when receptive to divine civilization which descends through the majestic revelation of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, the Shining Orb of His Covenant and the protection of His laws by which all races are banded together in the exaltation of service.

The story runs that a youth long absent from home in pursuit of education returned and was overjoyed to find that he now had a younger brother, born during his absence. He eagerly and lovingly embraced the newcomer. But alas! That child of immature years seeing in his brother only a stranger and all unaware of the relationship made a great outcry, wiggled out of his arms and even scratched his brother’s face.

Such is all too often the attitude of people of one group toward those of another when uninformed of the divine law which makes all men brothers. Such immaturity in a time of rapid changes must soon happily pass as that which is real comes more and more into view.

That reality is the co-operation of all mankind in productive enterprises, the awakening of spiritual life, the assurance of the way of God, and the enkindlement of the flame of divine love which removes all clouds. To forsake prejudice is better than to amass wealth. The conquest of animosities is far greater than victory over one’s foes. The struggle for universal good is far nobler than the desire for personal success.

The Glory of the rising Sun reveals the way. Victory and joy to those who strive!

By Horace Holley

The attempt of modern science to establish a psychology as definite and as authentic as biology is like the fish’s to leap a waterfall’s upstream. Long ago had our racial consciousness slipped over the brink of spiritual power into the shallows below. Our self-knowledge has come to be determined by that inferior level where power may sometimes, indeed, flow in as from above, but where power is neither to be created nor maintained. Perhaps it would be more accurate to assert that psychology has ceased even attempting to re-ascend the stream: officially, at least, it is more like the second generation of fish that, spawned beneath the falls, feels only a vague instinct of the height which gives its own waters renewal. In modern psychology as taught in the schools there may be much logos, but there is no psyche. The mind’s camera has been exposed in a darkened room.

For the essence of this matter is that the psyche is not spiritual fact observable, but a spiritual power to observe all fact. It is not a series of mysterious observations which can be organized into authentic knowledge, it is a mysterious but authentic gift to know. It is not an image of things within which may or may not be real; it is an inner eye which may or may not be possessed. True genius, scientific as well as religious, has always been aware of this fact.

The method of this “psychology” was borrowed, of course, from natural science. Natural science is organized knowledge, definite fact, authenticated observation. Its field of observation is nature; its power of observation is intellect. Now intellect transcends the phenomena of nature as the physical eye transcends the objects upon which it turns its vision. The intellect may, indeed, misapprehend the significance of phenomena in particular instances, as in particular instances the eye may erroneously determine perspective, but from the very nature of things the most unintelligent mind cannot fall to a level of consciousness lower than the phenomenon itself. Its relative advantage remains secure in the same way that the relative advantage between vision and visioned remains secure to the eye. Here there can be no question of the knower slipping downstream with respect to the thing known. Man is fast anchored upstream to the rest of nature as the animal is anchored upstream to the plant, or the plant to the mineral. The problem of natural science, therefore, was never the problem of establishing its own power to know, but merely to establish authentic knowledge of things knowable from the beginning. The mind has grown more accurate through training, but the mind was trained, not created, by its dealings with natural phenomena. Mind created science, science did not create mind. But because our age has been influenced, with respect to consciousness, by the authority of the natural sciences more than from any other source, we have come unquestioningly to accept the dictum of science concerning the proper method of investigating consciousness itself.

But the essential superiority of the knower to the known which obtains between rational intelligence and natural phenomena by no means determines the relation of knower to known as between rational consciousness and the essential nature of man. The most that any psychologist can claim for his own consciousness is that it exists, but its existence, obviously, is conditioned by its position relative to the entire stream. The psychologist’s self-consciousness may appear to him complete and aware of no higher existences, but this very completeness may conceivably correspond to a mere stagnant pool shut off from the main current. For even the most dogmatic psychologist cannot avoid the differentiation between minds, the differentiation manifested perceptibly between Shakespeare and his readers, for example, or between Christ and his followers. But the materialistic psychologist explains all such differentiation without altering the essential character of his own consciousness in the least—without even, apparently, realizing any need for altering it. He explains genius, whether religious or artistic, by establishing its factors in terms of heredity, environment or physiological status. Genius appears to him either a greater accumulation of elements present in every mind, or their mere superior arrangement, or, on the contrary, their disarrangement into abnormal states. In other words, he translates the phenomena of consciousness into a medium lower than consciousness itself. He breaks consciousness up into elements similar in degree to the elements which are the raw material, the objective, of natural science. Since the psychologist cannot remove the manifestation of genius—its religion or its poetry—he solicits every possible circumstance of heredity, environment and physiology to sustain his own inherent, unalterable conscious perspective, thereby, for the unwary, obscuring the very fact at issue: that genius is not the power of impression but the power of expression. Genius renders from the inside out, while the psychologist can only register from the outside in. He consequently emphasizes heredity, environment and physiological status because these are all three alike external, material conditions supremely significant to minds whose power of impression surpasses their power of expression, though they are supremely insignificant to minds conscious of possessing an independent creative force. This is not to assert that heredity, environment and physiological factors do not condition expression, for they do; but their influence is limited to conditioning the form, the extent and sometimes the direction which expression assumes: not one of them singly, not all combined, can explain the force by which they are shaken into significant patterns of character and art. Heredity may be as the oil of the lamp, environment may be as the colored globe, and physiological status as the wick, but genius is the flame. To establish the formula of genius in terms of neurotic instability is to betray unmistakably at last the spiritual prostitution to which science has fallen in these latter days. Its triumph is the triumph of logic merely, which convinces only those who start from the same premise; an ominous triumph in this case, since the authority of science has been able to transform much of the world’s reverence for valuable spiritual gifts into indifference or sympathetic contempt as for the victim of some mysterious mental ill.

Though responsibility for accepting a material psychology may be forgiven the general, it is more difficult to overlook the responsibility of the scientist himself. He should have recalled the early history of his own subject, the days of Galileo and Kepler, when reason itself, as the power of establishing authentic laws of matter, was upstream to the priest’s consciousness; when the priest, consequently, began his attack against reason by denying its validity and ended by condemning it as a dangerous perversion of human nature. In those days the scientist had to defend himself against a consciousness intellectually so much lower that its attack must have seemed as unreasonable to him as would be the attack of so many trees. But today the psychologist himself, since he cannot create art must obviously be downstream to the artist, just as, since he cannot create devoted faith and self-sacrifice among multitudes of people over centuries of time, he must be even farther downstream with respect to the founders of religion. Had the modern materialist, however, realized the case of his own predecessor, he might have felt himself into the profound truth so far denied his reason; that while language is universal, experience is confined to those inhabiting the same spiritual domain. Religious conviction today, in a world of rational materialism, occupies the same position relative to the scientist as the scientist, in those days of dominant theology, occupied relative to the priest. The position is that of a Macbeth against whom advances the nightmare of Birnum wood.

Into a world rationalized as regards ideal if not action, religion has unexpectedly returned, renewing in men the strange lost sense of the soul. Slipping easily through the meshes of biological “truth,” and become a force in consciousness itself, this spiritual renaissance cannot be denied—like an angel in the garrison it can only be recognized and obeyed. By individuals, religious experience can be cherished for its own sake in the very teeth of reason; but one may be certain that in this pragmatic age religion may not establish social forms until science has come to terms with its every claim. The task of testing religion, of course, was never rightly the province of biology, and only appeared so while religion was considered in the perspective of history. In the personal perspective, which its return compels, the task falls once more to psychology. But the psychology born of natural science, as shown, rests upon an absolutely false premise. Its premise does not contain that easily vulnerable falsehood which can be disclosed in terms of the correspondence of phenomena; its premise is the more impregnable falsehood consisting in the fact that the psychologist himself is essentially incapable of fulfilling his function. It is not his method which fails, but his experience. He develops his mental film capably enough. The trouble is that the film is blank.

II.

To indict the psychology, therefore, is to indict the psychologist himself. But to indict the psychologist is also to render verdict against the society accepting a premise whose error it never required an elaborate laboratory or special instruction to expose, but only the determination of the individual heart to safeguard its own fairest hope. Society accepted a material psychology because its strongest determination fell in the material world. Spiritual affirmation there has been, even under the reign of the gods of coal and iron, but affirmation which cast back to the days when science could reasonably be ignored. Increasingly now there is spiritual experience among those who would not ignore science even if they could, but these minds still hesitate to press their claims against an authority traditionally opposed to that claim, and one whose method and positive achievement they rightly admire.

The scientific mind came to be considered the true type of supreme intelligence as the result of three distinct influences: the triumph of science over theology in the question of facts; the positive achievement of science in its own field; and last but not least, the rise of universal education. The rapid spread of literacy, and the growing need of education as part of one’s equipment for labor, served to identify science with the new effectiveness and advantages of education itself. Knowledge came to imply book knowledge, and the reader of books attributed his own new sense of increased power, naturally enough, to the sources from which it was chiefly supplied. The triumph of natural science as ideal standard of truth was made complete by the basis it seemed to render all men for a conviction of intellectual self-sufficiency. But universal education was made possible only by enthroning the lowest of all intellectual faculties, memory. Memory alone will give the student possession enough of his texts to meet an institutional standard, because institutional standards necessarily make education a matter of receptivity; and the mastery of only a few books under this system creates in the student’s mind the conviction that he could, if he so desired, succeed to the heritage of all human wisdom. All human wisdom supposedly being reducible to three feet of wood-pulp and leather. It would be merely a question of adding more rungs to the ladder already begun. This feeling on the part of students has created a tendency on the part of their masters to re-write all old works for which a new need was felt—especially history and philosophy—and to re-write them in terms of the modern standard. In the process of translating history and philosophy into the language of economic values, much unsound material undoubtedly was cut away; but the translators cut away also even more material which had permanent significance as witnessing the faith of men in their own spiritual destiny. Faults of an unscientific material were attributed to the maker’s mind; an easy superiority of fact was considered an equally easy superiority of intelligence. Thus another influence was added to the economic pressure already operating toward opportunism, and cooperating with it prevented the average person from perceiving the gap intervening between the receptive mind, whose faculty is memory, and the creative mind, whose faculty is insight. The heritage to all human wisdom, the proud boast of democracy in education, is a heritage of external fact merely. To the true heritage of wisdom, the quality attaching to minds independently of their material, there have appeared few heirs; for minds so trained, so penetrated from the beginning with the need to go on, ever on, through field after field of fact, seldom have opportunity to realize that there soon comes a point where the longest ladder will not serve, but wings are required. Never suspecting his own inadequate psychic instrument, the modern layman does not suspect the inadequacy of the scientist’s intelligence for the task of psychology. The scientist, indeed, has only succeeded to the Parthian victory of the priest—that victory whose tragedy consists in the fact that, having been too easily won, it leads the victor to overestimate his own powers.

For these reasons, then, the nineteenth century was content to huddle upon one small island in the sea of human consciousness. It not only cut itself off from the larger area of ancient experience, but even vaunted its own ability to do so as the symbol of truest intellectual freedom. But that small island has been revealed in all its abject desolation by the War. Two waves of experience, rolling from opposite directions, have overwhelmed it forever: the soldier’s consecration to a spiritual power not received from without but welling up in his own being, and the civilian’s realization that social stability, even for prosperity on its lowest terms, requires a directive force not resident in the scientific ideal. The scientific ideal has served not life but death, thereby revealing itself less as the criminal to be punished than as the servant to be put under control. Its authority to establish a final standard of truth has, at any rate, been discredited; the problem now is rather to organize a new conviction than to reinterpret an old doubt.

III.

As a matter of fact, at the very moment when the cleavage appears between consciousness and natural phenomena, the real contribution science has made the race in the way of thought now first becomes evident. Turning once more, in the light of personal aspiration, to direct contact with spiritual conviction in its original sources, we are struck by the fact that this conviction, from lack of precise and mutual knowledge, possessed an inadequate instrument of thought by which to express itself to other minds. The soul of the older, pre-scientific race expressed itself as a kind of poetry, by allusion and image; expression whose content is therefore necessarily limited to those sharing the key. Real enough to the possessor, religion became dark and shadowy in the process of transfer from one to another mind. Viewed from the perspective of inexperience, its concepts are as actors whose backs are turned to the audience, losing the plot in the mazes of half-heard echo. The man of religion spoke a language apart, a lover’s language, certain that his every wingéd word would find a nest in the heart of him moved by the same passion; unable to image that passion completely to the cold. In other words, religion was given the race in the form of implicit knowledge, a knowledge continually betrayed when translated into the medium of customary speech. But science, creating an external universe mutually perceptible and firmly grasped, has made knowledge explicit. Steeped in the habits of explicit thought, the modern mind differs from the ancient mind not so much in thinking different thoughts as in thinking the same thoughts in a different way. Science has placed the transfer of experience upon a new, socialized basis. The actor now faces his audience, revealing the whole plot. One mind can give its all to another mind through their mutual possession of the same external universe. Slowly but surely knowledge has been turned inside out. This fact, the necessity of science, is also the opportunity of religion. For the first time may we perceive another’s as positive light in the world of communicable thought, not merely as negative shadow. For the first time is the mystery of being captured from knowledge, where it perishes, and given the knower, where it lives on. For the first time also can religion be socialized above and beyond ritual and form on the plane of instruction. And the development of mind as self-consciousness from thought implicit to thought explicit actually turns both ways, enabling us to perceive at last that religion and science required one another from the beginning—that the relation of one to the other, in fact, is nothing more or less than the relation of soul and body in the social organization.

PART 2

If the real problem at issue were the difference in degree which exists between the consciousness of the material psychologist, or the believer in material psychology, and the man who has undergone spiritual experience, the argument would stick fast on the shoals of practical impossibility. But this is not the problem at issue. However it may appear, spiritual experience is not a personal, untransferable gift, like talent or temperament. The chief point to be examined is less that the “spiritual” mind differs from the “material” mind in degree than that, wherever on the stream of reality the latter happens to be located, it faces the other way. The material mind faces downstream. This is the source of their disagreement, that the scientific attitude has its back to the religious attitude. The scientific attitude is concerned with a reality not only downstream to spiritual attainment, but downstream to its own being. Its point of view upon the human drama is the point of view of the lower natural order. The properties of its spectacles it attributes to its eye.

For the basis of science is the conviction that conscious states derive as effects from physiological conditions. This conviction is one capable of proof. The proof itself is unquestionably sound to those establishing it. The proof consists of fact as well as theory, of demonstration as well as hypothesis. The proof cannot rationally be denied, but actually, however, it can be overstepped. For physiological conditions, while they do determine states of consciousness, and do so in human conduct as rigorously as the procedure of mathematics, are causal only for the minds facing downstream. The law holds, but it is not the only law. For minds facing upstream—even from the bottom of the stream itself—another law, apparently contradictory, operates. For the consciousness which has learned to seek its reality upstream, in the spiritual order, that which was cause becomes effect, and that which was effect becomes cause. Consciousness dilates, aware of itself as knower rather than mere repository of knowledge, as steadfast love rather than capricious lover; regards its previous state as death compared to life, as seed compared with flower; and stepping as it were from the moonlight of reflected being into the sunlight of being direct and essential, perceives the tyranny of nature replaced by the intimate regard of one all-sustaining Friend. This is the difference, then, between the two attitudes we call spiritual and material: that the spiritualized mind faces the sun of life, the materialized mind its own projected shadow.

Much confusion exists as the result of the terms “inner” life and “outer” life, which serve less to distinguish the upstream from the downstream of consciousness than to oppose inactivity to activity of conduct. The mind turned upon itself for nourishment too frequently asks for bread and receives a stone. The mind’s sustenance is actually not what it contains, in the way of acquired ideas or even personal talents, but what it receives, in the way that a spring receives fresh water or a flower receives light. The well-stored mind, especially the mind with a talent, undoubtedly has, in comparison, a semblance of independent “inner” life, but this independence is by comparison merely, as by comparison the camel is able to go without food. The real life of man is not thought but recognition of God. The first step toward real life is not to acquire more ideas, but to effect a different attitude. In other words, the first step is to turn consciousness about from a downstream perception to a perception upstream. This involves the mind as the mirror of reality, not as the storehouse of impressions. Memory and imagination are not concerned; what is concerned is insight, the dove sent forth from the ark of consciousness to find a point of dry land.

Here lies the preliminary difficulty which diverts many modern minds from spiritual attainment to psychic development—that in and by itself the intelligence is not a boat which can readily be turned about, but rather like the breath by which the mirror is obscured. The capacity of minds to take on new ideas and discard old ones is not like the ship’s freedom of movement about the sea, but the passenger’s freedom about the ship. It does not avoid the consequences of wreck, if toward wreck the vessel is directed. All the customary faculties, memory, will, reason, which in the material mind are concerned with the lesser interest, and exist in terms of the lesser interest, must be detached from that object and made to function for a different end. That change in the character of consciousness which transmutes material into spiritual being depends upon an awareness of self not as passenger in the ship, but as the ship itself.

Spiritual development, consequently, is a matter of humility, that humility which follows the loss of the sense of independence self-contained. The true nature of humility is not hateful self-abasement, but the perception of an object of devotion which creates a joy so profound that self is forgot. An example of real humility is the youth possessing elements of greatness in art. At this stage, the mind is downstream to attainment, but pointed upstream to attainment in others because this attitude serves the instinctive best interests of the awakening mind. It receives impressions from the masterpieces of art in the only way that impressions retain their dynamic quality, by giving them entrance into the mind as from above, in terms of the same qualities by virtue of which the masterpieces were originally created. It reverences that aspect of other minds which it reverences in itself. Genius is far nearer the attitude of humility than is mediocrity. It is the capacity for humility which sets one upon the way of power. That capacity is never a matter of the physical will, whose instinct is to dominate, but of the spiritual will, whose nature is to be inspired. In the spiritual world, the virtues arrange themselves in a scale the reverse of the physical virtues. Possession and domination follow last; the foremost are obedience and response.

But obedience and response bring strength only to the mind which has found levels of being higher than its own. To respond to new impulses within self, originated by self, merely substitutes one incapacity for another. Darkness can not drive itself away, it flees only from light. Efforts to achieve religion through a mere understanding of new ideas may change the image in the mirror; it will not remove the blur. One confronts the fact here that religion has nearly everywhere been reduced to the lower terms of knowledge or conduct, so that society closes round the inquiring mind a darkness like its own. All things of all lives can be explained in terms of material intelligence, for every experience entering the material intelligence, either at first or second hand, takes on the shadow of the closed room. The problem as to whether spiritual reality actually exists is not like the question as to whether a certain picture hangs in a locked room, which depends upon the picture, but the question is whether the picture contains the quality of beauty, which depends also upon the inquiring eye.

The book of Job is the eternal drama of the search for God, for spiritual reality, on the part of a consciousness surrounded by materialism. The name of religion is constantly employed, and the authority of religion freely acknowledged, but the miracle of the spiritual life cannot be performed. Job himself was one with his environment until cast outside its resources by extremity of misfortune and pain. Even when feeling himself outside, he turns again and again to it for consolation. Job’s friends typify the various ideas held about the spiritual life by complacently darkened minds. One and all, these are but material attitudes disguised under the terminology of faith. One and all, they represent mind in its relation to the downstream of experience—their content is derived from the usages of society, and all they actually know of the eagle is the empty net. The God of Job’s friends is nature adapted to the social organism. But the walls of Job’s mind have been broken through as by the weight of a falling tree. He has learned the limit of darkness for the first time through the power of light. Little by little his being adapts itself to the direct rays of the sun, until his intelligence formulates the astonishment of the sprouted seed. He stands outside himself as the sprout stands outside the seed; all his senses respond to their vital power of expansion through a new cycle of growth. From being one who had derived all his happiness from possession, he becomes one who brings to possession a greater joy. From being dependent on things, he learns to render the material world to his new vision as means to an end. He learns that spiritual reality is not the mirage of social prosperity, but social prosperity is its mirage. He learns that the way to God is not that narrow, crowded gate which typifies social competition, but the freedom of every sail to receive the wind once the sail has been unfurled. The path of the spirit brings many agonies, but these have to do with unfurling the sails; never do they mean that the wind has fallen to a dead calm.

In his endeavor to reach upstream to that self we make remote under the cloudy title “soul,” Job left behind every element of thought and emotion, every faculty and attribute, and breasted the current only by becoming one selfless detachment from desire. His consciousness passed as it were through the narrow door of death, where the back carries no burden and the hands no gift. His lost lands and his lost loves merely objectify his loss of the habitual factors of self; his physical agony in the same way represents supreme mental confusion, the quivering patches of shadow and light. But on the further side of that door, when the process came to fulfillment, to Job was rendered back his memory and will, his desires and thoughts and emotions, his recognitions and relationships—all the possessions of self by which being is maintained. But their moment of annihilation in “death” had severed their attachment to the physical centers of life; and their return was as the agencies of spirit. Immortality ascended into his life as sap to the bud in spring. Without physical death, he entered heaven from the earth of his own nature. The heaven he entered was not merely that easier environment which allows “soul” to exist as summer allows existence to the butterfly; it was itself established through the power of his own new perception. Soul does not come by wishing for heaven—heaven comes with the attainment of soul. All the emphasis religion brings to bear on life, in material societies, is vain and sterile by reason of our submission to the mere continuity of time. We remain on the surface of self as the fly upon water. We recognize the supreme transformations of death, but we attribute them to the physical death shared by the serpent and the weed. We develop the strength of giants for the downstream of things, but for their upstream reality we remain as children in the womb. The defensive armor we have cast from our bodies we still retain for our minds. We avoid the Armageddon of self by keeping within that darkened cave where the sun of truth enters not.

There are three stages in spiritual development; the first is that in which consciousness is like the passengers in a ship, borne they know not where; in the second stage, consciousness becomes as it were the ship itself; but in the third stage it seems like the very sea. To the ship, storms are ominous, fatal—to the sea they are passages of its eternal music, evidences of its greatness, renewers of its power. From this condition the soul looks out upon the world neither as conqueror nor slave, but as an actor in the drama of God.

The reason that a spiritual leader like Gandhi seems to be recognized by the world more readily than is the spiritual Servant, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, comes from the fact that Gandhi’s influence operates directly in the field of politics, which everybody understands and most people consider supremely important, while ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s influence operates directly upon the unseen world of the soul, which alas few people give the first or in fact any vital place in the scheme of life. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was and is invisible to all save those who are truly humble: to them he is more visible than the sun. In the steadfastness of this supreme conviction the friends of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá may gaze serenely out upon the epic happenings of the day, beholding Job relived in the struggles and agonies of humanity itself; pain multiplied everywhere as never before, until through darkness as of annihilation, men become aware of the sound of the Voice of God.