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. 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. 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.

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.

By Ann Boyles

It was Aristotle who first defined the word “community” as a group established by men having shared values. That initial definition has been refined and expanded through the years. We have come, for example, to recognize that people can belong to a number of different “communities” simultaneously—communities of place; cultural communities; communities of memory, in which people who may be strangers share “a morally significant history”; and psychological communities “of face-to-face personal interaction governed by sentiments of trust, co-operation, and altruism.”1Daniel Bell, Communitarianism and its Critics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 14.

The world, we are repeatedly reminded, has contracted into a “global village.” One effect of this contraction is the bringing together of hitherto isolated peoples, allowing for the development of new patterns of civilization—but also creating new tensions. Thus, challenges now confront communities at local, national, and global levels. For example, new information technologies have created “networks” and “cybercommunities” in the world of the Internet that link individuals and organizations around the globe without regard for national boundaries; small communities around the planet are affected by urban migration or by degradation of the natural and built environment; the existence of national communities—nation states—is under threat from assaults by ethnic or tribal enclaves. Ironically, while the emergence of a global community wielding effective power is seen by many as a necessity in order to combat the ill effects of unfettered market economics, the whole idea that a real global community can ever come into existence is met with deep misgivings or complete skepticism by others. How, then, can we understand “community” at the end of the twentieth century—and what will its future be in the next millennium?

A number of significant challenges to community have arisen from developments in global information technologies. While pundits ponder whether or not Internet users form any kind of viable community as they sit at their computers in farflung corners of the world, a deeper and more serious issue is the manner in which the entire structure of computer networks undermines more traditional kinds of community organization.

As Jessica Mathews points out in her essay “Power Shift,” which appeared in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, these new information technologies have challenged established societal hierarchies. They have empowered civil society, which in turn has allowed the world’s peoples generally to be more involved than previously in issues that were once the sole province of states and to forge new links between democracy, human rights, and international security. Yet, the technologies themselves are not always used to achieve constructive ends. They have, for example, also promoted the spread of global organized crime, and they have enabled individuals to cross borders easily to subvert governments and, at times, create new societal divisions.

The future of the state, in her view, is therefore uncertain. Information technologies, she points out “disrupt hierarchies, spreading power among more people and groups.” She continues,

In drastically lowering the costs of communication, consultation, and coordination, they favor decentralized networks over other modes of organization. In a network, individuals or groups link for joint action without building a physical or formal institutional presence. Networks have no person at the top and no center. Instead, they have multiple nodes where collections of individuals or groups interact for different purposes. Businesses, citizens organizations, ethnic groups, and crime cartels have all readily adopted the network model. Governments, on the other hand, are quintessential hierarchies, wedded to an organizational form incompatible with all that the new technologies make possible. 2Jessica T. Mathews, “Power Shift,” Foreign Affairs (January-February 1997), p. 52.

The technologies, she concludes, weaken community by empowering individuals, and her article contains this dire prediction:

The prophets of an internetted world in which national identities gradually fade, proclaim its revolutionary nature and yet believe the changes will be wholly benign. They won’t be. The shift from national to some other political allegiance, if it comes, will be an emotional, cultural, and political earthquake.3Jessica T. Mathews, “Power Shift,” Foreign Affairs (January-February 1997), p. 65.

Mathews raises important questions: What kind of community can be forged in an internetted world, where the structure of the technology promotes anarchy, with its emphasis on complete freedom of expression and lack of regard for authority? Does this spell the end of the nation-state and, if so, what other kind of political entity might arise in its stead? The challenges posed by the new information technologies may generate significant crises felt throughout the world, but such a development looms on the horizon.

There are, however, a number of current crises facing community. Loss of the sense of community based on “place” is a worldwide phenomenon. Millions of people all over the planet are being displaced from their homes. Some are refugees fleeing escalating political strife. Others are forced from their homes by economic necessity, such as farmers from rural China who are migrating to cities in vast numbers, searching for factory work. Such movement destroys families, undermines the traditional sense of trust found in community, increases feelings of isolation and dislocation, and creates a host of social problems.

Even where people still maintain their homes, there are challenges to the sense of place. A case in point is America, where planners are in revolt against the manner in which the built environment of communities has been shaped in the latter part of the twentieth century. A movement widely known by the name “new urbanism” protests against the “fantastic, awesome, stupefying ugliness” of “the gruesome, tragic suburban boulevards of commerce” so common in American towns and cities, contending that “this ugliness is the surface expression of deeper problems” and contributes substantially to the widely expressed sense of “loss of community” felt throughout the society.4James Howard Kunstler, “Home From Nowhere,” Atlantic Monthly (September 1996), p. 43.

The new urbanists posit that going back to the planning and design principles that shaped the traditional neighborhoods of America is a way of recapturing this lost sense of place and community, of reversing a pattern of development they see as “economically catastrophic, an environmental calamity, socially devastating, and spiritually degrading.” Discarding the zoning laws that segregate various activities, they seek to create neighborhoods (or hamlets or villages) of manageable size which, when clustered together, become towns and cities. Each neighborhood is constructed on a “human scale”; it contains both residential and commercial property and provides housing for people of different levels of income. The proposal is not fantastic. Many traditional European towns, for example, have preserved this element of “human design.” But to make such a change, citizens everywhere must take an active role in decisions regarding the environment in which they live:

Human settlements are like living organisms. They must grow, and they will change. But we can decide on the nature of that growth—on the quality and the character of it—and where it ought to go. We don’t have to scatter the building blocks of our civic life all over the countryside, destroying our towns and ruining farmland…. It is within our power to create places that are worthy of our affection.5James Howard Kunstler, “Home From Nowhere,” Atlantic Monthly (September 1996), p. 66.

Such loss of “community of place” can also bring loss of communities of memory and communities governed by trust. In the late nineteenth century Ferdinand Tönnies theorized that in the development of systems of culture, communities invariably move from a period of Gemeinschaft, where shared experience and likeness are most important, toward a period of Gesellschaft, where individuals exist in isolation from each other, there is a strong sense of competition, relationships are contractual, and monetary values prevail. Such a progression has been noted by others as well. In this century, Pitirim A. Sorokin, for example, saw societies moving through ideational, idealistic, and sensate stages, away from spiritual truth and values towards self-indulgence and material values. But is such a progression inevitable?

If we again take the case of America and look at it in Tönnies’ terms, we see that the society is in a period of Gesellschaft. William Leach, in his insightful 1993 volume Land of Desire, analyses the forces that have shaped modern America as “a distinct culture, unconnected to traditional family or community values, to religion in any conventional sense, or to political democracy…. The cardinal features of this culture were acquisition and consumption as the means of achieving happiness; the cult of the new; the democratization of desire; and money value as the predominant measure of all value in society.”6William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 3.  As this culture grew, Leach writes, “Increasingly, the worth of everything—even beauty, friendship, religion, the moral life—was being determined by what it could bring in the market.”7William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 8.

Leach characterizes the dominant mode of interaction in twentieth century life as an amoral “brokering style,” the features of which are “repressing one’s own convictions and withholding judgment in the interest of forging profitable relationships.” Contending that it “occupies a preeminence in today’s political and moral economy,” he writes, “Brokers are now busy in nearly every sphere of activity, and they have helped inject into American culture a new amoralism essentially indifferent to virtue and hospitable to the ongoing inflation of desire.”8Leach, p. 11.  Because America, with the collapse of communism, is now the world’s undisputed single superpower, its role as the leading exponent of Western capitalist values—which have been exported throughout the entire world—is crucial.

Indeed, some writers have gone so far as to characterize the current devotion to those values as a worldwide “religious” phenomenon. David Loy writes:

…our present economic system should also be understood as our religion, because it has come to fulfill a religious function for us. The discipline of economics is less a science than the theology of that religion, and its god, the Market, has become a vicious circle of ever-increasing production and consumption by pretending to offer a secular salvation. The collapse of communism—best understood as a capitalist “heresy”—makes it more apparent that the market is becoming the first truly world religion, binding all corners of the globe more and more tightly into a worldview and set of values whose religious role we overlook only because we insist on seeing them as “secular.”9David R. Loy, “The Religion of the Market,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62.2 (Summer 1997), p. 275.

George Soros shares this view, stating, “What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values…. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor.”10George Soros, “The Capitalist Threat” in The Atlantic Monthly (February 1997), pp. 45-58.  Concluding that “there is something wrong with making the survival of the fittest a guiding principle of civilized society,” he proposes an “open society” as the antidote to the havoc that laissez-faire capitalism and market values are wreaking in democratic society, where the guiding principles of “nonmarket values” are eclipsed by the influence of market values. Current confidence that “the unhampered pursuit of self-interest will bring about an eventual international equilibrium” is, in his view, “misplaced.” An “open society” would promote institutions that allow people to live together in peace, in spite of their different views, interests, and beliefs concerning what is true. He concludes, however, that there is currently no willingness to establish the means to preserve a global open society.

Another commentator, William Greider, in his book One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, also contends that the widespread adoption of market economics does not and will not bring social and political stability, which have often been touted as long-term benefits. In fact, he says, the spread of market economics destroys the fabric of traditional societies and provides ideal conditions for contending political forces to fight each other for control.

In a response to Greider’s book in The Atlantic Monthly, Lester Thurow concurs, saying, “Capitalism is myopic and cannot make the long-term social investments in education, infrastructure, and research and development that it needs for its own future survival. It needs government help to make those investments, but its own ideology won’t allow it either to recognize the need for those investments or to request government help. That is the ideological paradox of our time.”11Lester Thurow, “The Revolution Upon Us” The Atlantic Monthly (March 1997), pp. 97-100.

According to Greider, we stand at a watershed in history: “A revolutionary principle is embedded in the global economic system, awaiting broader recognition: Human dignity is indivisible. Across the distances of culture and nations, across vast gulfs of wealth and poverty, even the least among us are entitled to dignity, and no justification exists for brutalizing them in the pursuit of commerce.”12William Greider, excerpted from One World: Ready or Not and published under the title “Planet of Pirates” in The Utne Reader (May-June 1997), pp. 72-73.  He continues, “any prospect of developing a common global social consciousness will inevitably force people to reexamine themselves first and come to terms with their own national contradictions and hypocrisies. And just as Americans cannot claim a higher morality while benefiting from inhumane exploitation, neither can developing countries pretend to become modern `one world’ producers and expect exemption from the world’s social values.”13William Greider, excerpted from One World: Ready or Not and published under the title “Planet of Pirates” in The Utne Reader (May-June 1997), p. 102

While there is, as yet, no set of social values generally accepted by the world, attempts have recently been made to introduce an internationally accepted “Charter of Human Responsibilities.” This document would “provide a broader ethical context to the principles inherent within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to “accentuate those positive obligations each individual should assume in the service to humanity and the rest of creation.”14Taken from the Core Initiatives of “The State of the World Forum ’95.”  The charter has not yet gained wide acceptance, but its formulation is a hopeful sign.

Values are also a main concern of Philip Selznick, a communitarian philosopher who contends not only that social justice must be the foundation of community but that it is the responsibility of both individuals and the collective. Thus, the communitarian concept of community is a “unity of unities”—a sort of “federal” unity that preserves the integrity of the parts by emphasizing individual moral autonomy as well as the moral bonds of civility, which are seen to be interdependence and reciprocity.15Philip Selznick, “Social Justice: A Communitarian Perspective,” in The Responsive Community 6.4 (Fall 1996), p. 15. For further discussion, see also Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 367-71.  The concept of “stewardship” in governance further binds social power to moral ideals.16Philip Selznick, “Social Justice: A Communitarian Perspective,” in The Responsive Community 6.4 (Fall 1996), p. 15. For further discussion, see also Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 22.  It is a concept that looks outward rather than inward—or, as Selznick puts it, moves towards “the `we’ of humanity.”17Philip Selznick, “Social Justice: A Communitarian Perspective,” in The Responsive Community 6.4 (Fall 1996), p. 15. For further discussion, see also Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 23.  In this concept of community the balance of particularism and universalism is regarded as crucial, respecting diversity “without allowing its claims to override those of basic humanity and justice.”18Philip Selznick, “Social Justice: A Communitarian Perspective,” in The Responsive Community 6.4 (Fall 1996), p. 15. For further discussion, see also Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 24.

It is not surprising that movements such as the communitarians have arisen to revisit the roots of Western society and to reexamine the values underpinning its culture. Their response to “the weakening of institutions, the blurred line between liberty and license, the widespread preference for short-run gains,” is to prescribe “more extensive responsibility in every aspect of personal experience and social life” as the antidote.19Philip Selznick, “Social Justice: A Communitarian Perspective,” in The Responsive Community 6.4 (Fall 1996), p. 15. For further discussion, see also Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 13.

Two other communitarians have offered some valuable insights into a community-friendly, sustainable system of economics. In their book For the Common Good, Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., make a distinction between two different paradigms of economic behavior: chrematistics and oikonomia. Chrematistics, they say, “can be defined as the branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange value to the owner”—a model that conforms to Leach’s, Soros’ and Greider’s view of capitalism, as epitomized by the American system. In contrast, oikonomia “is the management of the household so as to increase its use value to all members of the household over the long run.” They continue, “If we expand the scope of household to include the larger community of the land, of shared values, resources, biomes, institutions, language, and history, then we have a good definition of `economics for community.'”20Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 138.

The concept of oikonomia seems quite close to Selznick’s “stewardship.” Cobb and Daly’s assertion that “True economics concerns itself with the long-term welfare of the whole community”21Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 159  posits a conception of humans as something quite different from mere consumers—and of community as something much different from a mere marketplace. They argue that seeing people only as beings “bent on optimizing utility or satisfaction through procuring unlimited commodities,”22Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 159.  which is the view underlying current economic theory, leads to “policies that weaken existing patterns of social relationships.”23Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 163. They advocate, instead, that “economics should be refounded on the basis of a new concept of Homo economicus as person-in-community,”24Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 164.  recognizing that

the well-being of a community as a whole is constitutive of each person’s welfare…because each human being is constituted by relationships to others, and this pattern of relationships is at least as important as the possession of commodities. These relationships cannot be exchanged in a market. They can, nevertheless, be affected by the market, and when the market grows out of the control of a community, the effects are almost always destructive. Hence this model of person-in-community calls not only for provision of goods and services to individuals, but also for an economic order that supports the pattern of personal relationships that make up the community.25Daly and Cobb, pp. 164-165.

Daly and Cobb argue strongly for a conscious movement towards the adoption of social behavior and values that will enhance “the common good” and build the foundations of a community that will protect the environment and promote ways of living that provide for a sustainable future. Such an approach addresses some of the key challenges facing community.

At the broadest level of discussion, many contemporary thinkers, such as Daly and Cobb, see the global nature of environmental crises and the interconnectedness of national economies, for example, as leading inexorably towards the establishment of a global community of some sort. Others, however, see the whole idea as an utter impossibility. Some of the most provocative pieces to appear in print on this topic during the past several years have been authored by Samuel P. Huntington, whose essay “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs sparked a firestorm of debate on his thesis that the emergence of a global civilization is a utopian fantasy. Huntington later expanded his position to a full-length book, notably dropping the question mark at the end of the title to read The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

The phrase “world community” “has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing `the Free World’) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers,”26Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 184.  he contends. The West, whose system of liberal democracy has recently been touted as the pinnacle of social evolution and achievement, is not, in his view, a universal civilization. “What is universalism to the West is imperialism to the rest,” he states.27Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 184.

While Huntington focuses on “civilization,” which he defines as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species,” the elements he sees as shaping civilizations are quite similar to those generally accepted as characteristics of community: “common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions” and “the subjective self-identification of people.”28Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 43.

He is extremely skeptical that any kind of unified global civilization can ever develop. At the individual level, he asserts that there must always be “the civilizational `us’ and the extracivilizational `them'” because we fear and distrust people who are different; we experience difficulty in communicating with them; and we are unfamiliar with what motivates them, how they conduct social relationships, and so on.29Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 129.  In opposition to Daly and Cobb, he states that “it is human to hate”; “for self-definition and motivation people need enemies: competition in business, rivals in achievement, opponents in politics. They naturally distrust and see as threats those who are different and have the capability to harm them.”30Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 130.  This rivalry extends to the sphere of religion. As Huntington says, “Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and nonbelievers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”31Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 97.  Further, “if a universal civilization is emerging,” he asserts, “there should be signs of a universal language and a universal religion developing.” He concludes, “Nothing of the sort is occurring.”32Samuel P. Huntington, “The Many Faces of the Future,” The Utne Reader (May-June 1997), pp. 75-77.

Andrew Bard Schmookler, while also identifying “intersocietal anarchy” as “the overarching context of civilized life,” is somewhat more optimistic than Huntington about the development of a united global civilization. “As long as the human cultural system was fragmented into a multiplicity of separate units,” he asserts, “the problem of power remained insoluble.”33Andrew Bard Schmookler, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984), p. 33.  He contends that now “an escape from this fragmented system is beginning to emerge,” although dangers still remain:

For the first time, the world is becoming a single interdependent system in which all the world’s peoples are in contact. Meanwhile, the age-old struggle for power goes on and may annihilate us before we can create an order that controls power. But the centuries ahead give us the opportunity to place all human action within a structure that for the first time makes truly free human choice possible. Even so, it is far from clear how to get from here to there, or even what kind of world order “there” should be.34Andrew Bard Schmookler, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984), pp. 33-34.

To avoid such conflict, he asserts that if we reflect on “higher ideals,”

we will discover that there is less difference between East and West than is often made out to be….The challenge at hand is to conceive a common vision of the future which goes beyond our current concerns and preoccupations, advancing toward the creation of a global community, dominated neither by the East nor the West, but dedicated to the ideals of both.35Anwar Ibrahim, “A Global Convivencia vs. The Clash of Civilizations,” excerpted in New Perspectives Quarterly (Summer 1997), p. 41. 

To avoid such conflict, he asserts that if we reflect on “higher ideals,”

we will discover that there is less difference between East and West than is often made out to be….The challenge at hand is to conceive a common vision of the future which goes beyond our current concerns and preoccupations, advancing toward the creation of a global community, dominated neither by the East nor the West, but dedicated to the ideals of both.36Ibrahim, p. 41.

He advocates a “civilizational dialogue,” undertaken with the goal of achieving a “global convivencia—a harmonious and enriching experience of living together among people of diverse religions and cultures.”37Ibrahim, p. 42.

The uncertain hope expressed by Schmookler, the pessimism of Huntington, the fundamental structural changes described by Mathews, the ills outlined by Leach, Greider, Soros, and others, and the prescriptions advanced by Daly, Cobb, Selznick, and Ibrahim all provide differing perspectives on the strenuous debate currently taking place around the subject of community. Where the world will go from here remains uncertain. Various individuals and organizations have attempted to address the ills of society, which are generally perceived to be worldwide in scope, but, as Soros comments rather bitterly, no will exists to establish institutions and mechanisms that would effectively govern a global community. And certainly there is no wide agreement about what exactly the fundamental values of such a community should be.

It is clear from the number and variety of problems confronting humanity at this stage in its history that community development must be pursued at all levels, from the local to the global. Religion is one powerful means to address these problems, since it has traditionally been concerned with two broad questions: the purpose of existence and the nature of the community. In fact, the word “religion” itself is derived from religio, meaning “to bind together.”

Members of the world’s youngest independent religion, the Bahá’í Faith, who now number some five million souls from more than 2,000 tribes, races, and ethnic groups, have forged a united, dynamic community that is flourishing at the local, national, and global levels. The vision that unites this diverse group comes from Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He taught that all people worship one God, Who has guided the development of humanity through successive Messengers Who have founded the world’s major religions. The human race, Bahá’u’lláh said, now stands at the threshold of maturity, and the time has come for the uniting of all peoples into a peaceful and integrated global society. His prescriptions for humanity all lead toward that end.

Bahá’ís are, therefore, deeply concerned with the process of community building. To help them advance in their understanding of this issue, the Universal House of Justice, the Faith’s international governing council, has offered a definition of “community,” which it characterizes as “more than the sum of its membership”:

it is a comprehensive unit of civilization composed of individuals, families and institutions that are originators and encouragers of systems, agencies and organizations working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders; it is a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress.38The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan letter to the Bahá’ís of the world, B.E. 153 (April 1996).

Because spiritual values have the power to simultaneously unite peoples and transform political order into a moral community, the Bahá’í Faith has tremendous capacities to promulgate the model of a healthy, dynamic community. Indeed, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, writing about the Bahá’ís, once referred to “the society-building power which their Faith possesses.”39Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991), p. 195.

The principle that has enabled the Bahá’í Faith to achieve an unprecedented level of unity as a world community and yet preserve local communities’ and individuals’ unique identities is that of “unity in diversity,” about which Shoghi Effendi offers this commentary:

The Faith of Bahá’u’lláh has assimilated, by virtue of its creative, its regulative and ennobling energies, the varied races, nationalities, creeds and classes that have sought its shadow, and have pledged unswerving fealty to its cause. It has changed the hearts of its adherents, burned away their prejudices, stilled their passions, exalted their conceptions, ennobled their motives, coordinated their efforts, and transformed their outlook. While preserving their patriotism and safeguarding their lesser loyalties, it has made them lovers of mankind, and the determined upholders of its best and truest interests. While maintaining intact their belief in the Divine origin of their respective religions, it has enabled them to visualize the underlying purpose of these religions, to discover their merits, to recognize their sequence, their interdependence, their wholeness and unity, and to acknowledge the bond that vitally links them to itself. This universal, this transcending love which the followers of the Bahá’í Faith feel for their fellow-men, of whatever race, creed, class or nation, is neither mysterious nor can it be said to have been artificially stimulated. It is both spontaneous and genuine. They whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God’s creative love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognize in every human face a sign of His reflected glory.40Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 197-98.

This sense of spiritual unity that provides the basis of community structure pervades all aspects of Bahá’í community life. As one writer puts it,

…the meaning of Community is a meaning which can only be gradually unfolded as our experience in living the ideals of Community grows and evolves. Beyond our sense of friendship and fellowship and social interaction there is the reality of spiritual unity….

…unity is the essence of the Bahá’í Faith, because it is the principle of spiritual unity applied at a social level, a spiritual unity which has never before been realized in any community, a spiritual unity which flows from the communion of the individual soul with God and from the vision of God revealed in the soul of every other believer in that Community.41John Davidson, A Bahá’í Approach to Community: Process and Promise, Vol. 1, Bahá’í Studies in Australasia: Bahá’í Community and Institutions (Association for Bahá’í Studies-Australia, 1993), p. 36.

True civilization does not arise from material progress, but rather is founded on the transcendent values that hold society together. Bahá’ís believe that the theories and practices that promote self-indulgence and disrupt the connections among individuals must be directly challenged. Service to humanity and a commitment to a deeper level of engagement with each other and the problems of society are key motivating forces behind the Bahá’í community. As Bahá’u’lláh has written:

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race…. Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth…. It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.42Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983), p. 250.

Such service is the hallmark of true religion. In the words of `Abdu’l-Bahá, son of Bahá’u’lláh:

Universal benefits derive from the grace of the Divine religions, for they lead their true followers to sincerity of intent, to high purpose, to purity and spotless honor, to surpassing kindness and compassion, to the keeping of their covenants when they have covenanted, to concern for the rights of others, to liberality, to justice in every aspect of life, to humanity and philanthropy, to valor and to unflagging efforts in the service of mankind. It is religion, to sum up, which produces all human virtues, and it is these virtues which are the bright candles of civilization.43Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1994), p. 98.

To support the spiritual unity and desire to serve humanity that form the basis of community in Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, a structure to guard that unity and to promote acts of service is also explicitly laid out in the Faith’s sacred writings. As the eminent Bahá’í writer Horace Holley comments:

Faith alone, no matter how wholehearted and sincere, affords no basis on which the organic unity of a religious fellowship can endure…

The Bahá’í teaching has this vital distinction, that it extends from the realm of conscience and faith to the realm of social action. It confirms the substance of faith not merely as a source of individual development but as a definitely ordered relationship to the community.44Horace Holley, “Aims and Purposes of the Bahá’í Faith,” The Bahá’í World, Vol. XII (1950-54), p. 8.

He goes on to discuss the nature of the authority to which Bahá’ís commit themselves:

Sovereignty, in the Bahá’í community, is attributed to the Divine prophet, and the elected representatives of the believers in their administrative function look to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh for their guidance, having faith that the application of His universal principles is the source of order throughout the community. Every Bahá’í administrative body feels itself a trustee, and in this capacity stands above the plane of dissension and is free of that pressure exerted by factional groups.45Horace Holley, “Aims and Purposes of the Bahá’í Faith,” The Bahá’í World, Vol. XII (1950-54), p. 9.

Here one finds an application of the concept of “stewardship,” as mentioned by Selznick. Indeed, as Holley says, the Local Spiritual Assembly, the council that is elected annually, “represents the collective conscience of the community with respect to Bahá’í activities.”46Horace Holley, “Aims and Purposes of the Bahá’í Faith,” The Bahá’í World, Vol. XII (1950-54), p. 9.  In short,

Spiritual Assemblies, local and national, combine an executive, a legislative and a judicial function, all within the limits set by the Bahá’í teachings…. They are primarily responsible for the maintenance of unity within the Bahá’í community and for the release of its collective power in service to the Cause.47Horace Holley, “Aims and Purposes of the Bahá’í Faith,” The Bahá’í World, Vol. XII (1950-54), p. 9.

The administrative model conceived by Bahá’u’lláh promotes a concept of leadership embodying trustworthiness, wisdom, and willingness to sacrifice for the common good, and whose highest expression is service to the community. It also fosters collective decision making and collective action through a process called “consultation.” Conducted in a spirit of unity, its purpose is to search out the truth. Those engaged in the process are enjoined to express their views with “all freedom,” but at the same time “with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care, and moderation.”48Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Consultation: A Compilation (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980), #10, p. 6.  In this way, participants can avoid antagonism and conflict, and all can freely express their views without fear of displeasing or alienating anyone. Here, one sees how the “right” of freedom of speech is balanced by the “responsibility” of moderate expression. Indeed, Bahá’u’lláh states that “Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation.” Its influence, He says, “is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure,” and its moderation should be “combined with tact and wisdom.”49Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 143.

Because the Bahá’í community—just a century and a half old—is only “at the very beginning of the process of community building,” the House of Justice also provides, in its Ridvan 1996 letter, guidance regarding the elements necessary for healthy community growth. To facilitate the healthy growth of communities that can engage in an “unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress,” the House of Justice emphasizes that they must promote patterns of behavior “by which the collective expression of the virtues of the individual members and the functioning of the Spiritual Assembly are manifest in the unity and fellowship of the community and the dynamism of its activity and growth.” These patterns include the integration and inclusion of all the adults, youth, and children in “spiritual, social, educational and administrative activities,” as well as “local plans of teaching and development.” Another distinctive pattern of behavior is seen in the “collective will and sense of purpose” to establish and maintain Bahá’í administrative institutions, particularly evident in the annual election of Spiritual Assemblies in communities around the world. A final pattern involves “the practice of collective worship of God” through regular devotional meetings, seen as “essential to the spiritual life of the community.”

And indeed, the spirit of unity underlying their communities and the structures that govern them are not only for Bahá’ís, who believe that through time a unified global community will be forged, whether “reached only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behavior” or “embraced now by an act of consultative will.”50The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1985), p. 1.  As Shoghi Effendi wrote,

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.51Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 202.

Shoghi Effendi describes the global society promised in the Bahá’í sacred writings as follows:

A world community in which all economic barriers will have been permanently demolished and the interdependence of Capital and Labor definitely recognized; in which the clamor of religious fanaticism and strife will have been forever stilled; in which the flame of racial animosity will have been finally extinguished; in which a single code of international law—the product of the considered judgment of the world’s federated representatives—shall have as its sanction the instant and coercive intervention of the combined forces of the federated units; and finally a world community in which the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship—such indeed, appears, in its broadest outline, the Order anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh, an Order that shall come to be regarded as the fairest fruit of a slowly maturing age.52Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 41.

In the Bahá’í view, such a development is not a utopian vision; it is the next and highest step in the development of “an ever-advancing civilization,” “the furthermost limits in the organization of human society.”53Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 163.

A response to Huntington’s objection that there can be no global civilization because no universal religion or language is emerging is found within the Bahá’í Faith. First, it is a universal religion. As Bahá’u’lláh wrote over one hundred years ago,

There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose.54Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 217.

Further, He states,

Verily I say, this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One…. Great indeed is this Day! The allusions made to it in all the sacred Scriptures as the Day of God attest its greatness. The soul of every Prophet of God, of every Divine Messenger, hath thirsted for this wondrous Day. All the divers kindreds of the earth have, likewise, yearned to attain it.55Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, pp. 10-11.

With regard to the choice or development of a single language, Bahá’u’lláh says in His book of laws:

O members of parliaments throughout the world! Select ye a single language for the use of all on earth, and adopt ye likewise a common script…. This will be the cause of unity, could ye but comprehend it, and the greatest instrument for promoting harmony and civilization, would that ye might understand!56Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1993), p. 87, paragraph 189.

While all the elements necessary for the establishing of a global society are present in the Bahá’í sacred writings, the forging of a world community will, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, be a “gradual process.” The first step towards it will be the establishment of what Bahá’ís call “the Lesser Peace,” a political union reached by the nations of the world:

This momentous and historic step, involving the reconstruction of mankind, as the result of the universal recognition of its oneness and wholeness, will bring in its wake the spiritualization of the masses, consequently to the recognition of the character, and the acknowledgment of the claims, of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh—the essential condition to that ultimate fusion of all races, creeds, classes, and nations which must signalize the emergence of His New World Order.57Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 123.

“Then,” Shoghi Effendi continues, “will the coming of age of the entire human race be proclaimed and celebrated by all the peoples and nations of the earth.” The “Most Great Peace” will be established with the universal recognition of the message of unity brought by Bahá’u’lláh, following which “a world civilization [will] be born, flourish, and perpetuate itself, a civilization with a fullness of life such as the world has never seen nor can as yet conceive.”58Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980), pp. 123-24.

The establishment of a world civilization, promoting an unimaginable “fullness of life,” is assured. With confidence in the eventual achievement of this aim, Bahá’ís face the uncertainty of the transition period in which we are now living.

While others are not so confident, even the more pessimistic express some vague hope that a peaceful world community will somehow arrive. At the end of his book The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Robert Kaplan asks a crucial question: “As a species, we can imagine justice and harmony. But how can justice and harmony be possible for much of humanity, given the evidence of history, plus the inflammatory potential of a fourfold increase in population since the nineteenth century, with antennas rising from mudhuts to allow the poor to see how the rich live?”59Robert D. Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century (New York: Random Books, 1996), p. 437.  Kaplan has no answer to this question, but he closes his book with a quotation from the poem “Addressed to Haydon” by the visionary English poet John Keats:

And other spirits…are standing apart
Upon the forehead of the age to come;
These, these will give the world another heart,
And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
Of mighty workings?—
Listen awhile ye nations, and be dumb.

Bahá’u’lláh delivered His message to humanity short years after Keats penned these lines. “The world’s equilibrium,” He stated, “hath been upset by the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.”60Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 84, para. 181.  Bahá’u’lláh called the peoples of the world together in unity; He delineated the structure of a community that can function unitedly on the local, national, and global levels to promote justice and build a peaceful world. When considering the challenges facing communities at the end of the twentieth century, thinking people would do well to study the model that has brought together, in some 153 years, more than five million people from extremely diverse backgrounds and has enabled them to establish a single, united global community that both nourishes the individual and safeguards the good of the whole. These are indeed, in Keats’ words, “mighty workings”: here is a model that can benefit all the inhabitants of the planet.

At the Habitat II conference in Istanbul , in June 1996, the Bahá’í International Community shared its vision of communities of the future—a vision that addresses many of the challenges facing us at the end of this turbulent century:

Communities that thrive and prosper in the new millennium will do so because they acknowledge the spiritual dimension of human nature and make the moral, emotional, and intellectual development of the individual a central priority. They will guarantee freedom of religion and encourage the establishment of places of worship. Their centers of learning will seek to cultivate the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness and will pursue as a major goal the participation of all peoples in generating and applying knowledge. Remembering at all times that the interests of the individual and of society are inseparable, these communities will promote respect for both rights and responsibilities, will foster the equality and partnership of women and men, and will protect and nurture families. They will promote beauty, natural, and man-made, and incorporate into their design principles of environmental preservation and rehabilitation. Guided by the concept of unity in diversity, they will support widespread participation in the affairs of society, and will increasingly turn to leaders who are motivated by the desire to serve. In these communities the fruits of science and technology will benefit the whole society, and work will be available for all.

Communities such as these will prove to be the pillars of a world civilization—a civilization which will be the logical culmination of humanity’s community-building efforts over vast stretches of time and geography. Bahá’u’lláh’s statement that all people are “born to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization,” implies that every person has both the right and the responsibility to contribute to this historic and far-reaching, collective enterprise whose goal is nothing less than the peace, prosperity, and unity of the entire human family.61The Bahá’í International Community, Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World, a concept paper shared at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), Istanbul, Turkey, 3-14 June 1996.

By Wendy M. Heller and Hoda Mahmoudi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Azíz Yazdí

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Elsie Austin

Today, people who seek to stress the spiritual basis of peace and justice among men, or who dare to accent the necessity for the regeneration of human hearts and characters as the first step to needed social change, are usually rebuffed by those who immediately cry out, “Oh, you must be practical and realistic.”

This is because so many folk think that the only practical approach to human problems is one which deals immediately with outward evidences of what is desirable. They do not see human needs beyond the specific projects devised for education and security. Outwardly these matters do represent the things which separate the “Haves” from the “Have Nots” in human society, and if you look at them in this light, they may seem to be the sole issues which have all along produced restlessness, division and strife among men.

However, any social program which is to operate for true world betterment must of necessity go beyond outward evidences, if it is to be really practical. The best plans for social cooperation and peace are always limited by the kind of human beings who must use and apply them. There is no more realistic force in the world today than the Bahá’í Faith. In its teachings and its social program there are profoundly realistic approaches to the· fundamental social changes which must be the basis of any real and lasting unity for mankind.

The Bahá’í Faith is first of all a Faith which harmonizes the inward incentives and outward procedures to unity. Outward procedures give the means for unity and inward incentives give the heart for unity. There is great difference between folk who have the means for unity and the folk who have the heart for unity.

Legislation and the interplay of conflicting social interests may furnish a kind of means for unity, and even a certain state of outward compliance. However, legislation and the pressures of expediency have never been able to get at the inward fears, jealousies, greeds and animosities of men. And it is these which furnish the vicious inner motives which can browbeat the intelligence of men and make mockery of outward social compliance. Nearly every day we see tragic instances of failure where social change depends upon means alone. Instances where people nullify and obstruct legislation, where they sabotage social effort or fail to produce and support the kind of courageous policies and action needed for the patterns and standards consistent with just and enlightened ideals. The means for unity is there, but legislation is killed or evaded; communities lose their moral integrity in compromise with policies of hatred and division, and people excuse themselves from honest upright action by saying, “Law is not the way to do this.” “The time is not ripe” or “This is the right policy, but we must work up to it gradually.” Now, all such people are really saying is, “I have not the heart to do this thing” or “The people whose opinion I fear have not the heart for forthright action about this, and I do not know how to reach them.”

The religion of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of The Bahá’í Faith, begins with that essential spiritual regeneration of the human being which creates a heart for brotherhood and impels action for the unity of mankind. Bahá’u’lláh has made it very plain that the test of Faith is its social force. Principle and social planning are useless until they are rendered dynamic by the stamina and will of men to enforce and apply spiritual ethics to human affairs.

The second great realism of the Bahá’í faith is that it provides new patterns for the application of spiritual principle to the social problems of humanity.

When Bahá’u’lláh first proclaimed some eighty years ago, “This is the hour of the coming together of all the races and nations and classes. This is the hour of unity among the sons of men,” the prophecy was a far fetched ideal to the world of jealous politics and cultural isolation which received it. But the unity of mankind today is no mere social ideal. Human strife has made it a social necessity.

It is not surprising then to see that human unity is an increasingly popular subject for liberal thought and action. Nor is it surprising that programs to foster unity are being launched on every hand. Yet so many of the bona fide efforts for unity are being fatally compromised because they must be launched through the established social patterns which preserve old disunities. Do people learn brotherhood and the spiritual attitudes and social cooperation which brotherhood involves by lectures or hesitant compromising ventures, which leave untouched and unchanged the separate education, separate worship, separate security, separate social planning which shape every phase of their community living—embittering separations made in terms of differences of race, creed, culture and nationality? Any social pattern which elaborately preserves and accents these outward differences and their resultant inward animosities must of necessity crucify the objective of social unity.

The Bahá’í Teachings not only destroy without equivocation the fallacies which have nourished social strife and disunity, but they provide new patterns of social living and development through which men learn brotherhood by performance.

And what realistic way is there, you may ask, to deal with the ancient bitter diversities of race, religion and culture? What can be done with the changing pressures of unstable economics and the conflicting education of the world’s peoples?

The Bahá’í Faith provides for the diversities of religion, that long needed center of reconciliation, which can produce harmonious understanding of its varying prophets and systems. Bahá’u’lláh has shown us in the Bahá’í Revelation that the great revealed religions of the world are like lamps which carry the pure light of Divine Truth providing social teaching and discipline for humanity. But as that lamp is borne by human hands, there are periods when conflicting interpretations of the Divine Word, dogmas and superstitions, alienate and divide men. Periods when the temptations of material power pervert religion into an instrument for the exploitation and suppression of human development. It is because of this that new lamps have always come and will always come. Each of the great lamps tests the social force of the others. In this men should find source for progress, not reason for strife. God in His mercy has provided in the Divine Faiths a continuous and successive renewal of Universal Spiritual Truth.

The Bahá’í learns the relation and ordered unfoldment of Truth in all Divine Religions. Thus Spiritual Faith is lifted above the period differences of its various names and systems. Is it unrealistic that in a world so in need of spiritual regeneration, Jews, Christians, Moslems and Believers of all Divine Faiths should be given that which will relate their spiritual purposes and development and thus enable them to travel harmoniously a wide free path to greater social demonstration and understanding of the Truth? Is this not a more effective way to create the heart for unity than the elaborate separations and the jealous fencing off of Religious paths? Today men so preserve and concentrate upon their symbolic differences that the common goal is lost in confusion and animosity.

There are really no diversities of race to those who truly accept the fact that all mankind is God’s creation. Yet the outward differences of color, physiognomy and culture have annoyed and divided us. When members of the human family meet each other who have striking differences in appearance and manners, they resort very naturally to reactions of fear, distaste and derision, which grow out of the human complex for conformity and the fear of strangeness. Unity of mankind is not only a basic principle in the Bahá’í Faith, but it is also the basis of a new social pattern in terms of which Bahá’ís worship, work, educate themselves and contribute their capacities to civilization. Living in a Bahá’í community is a matter of learning differences, appreciating them and achieving with them great loyalties to human welfare, which are above the narrow confinements of race, creed and class, color and temperament. The most practical knowledge in the world is the knowledge that the world can never become what so many people like to believe; a world in which we make other people look, act, and understand in terms of that with which we are familiar. That kind of world is neither possible nor desirable. What we really want is a world of harmonized differences, where a man can make his contribution with other men for the good of all mankind. This is the world of the Bahá’í Community, a community covering seventy-eight national backgrounds and thirty-one racial origins and Heaven knows how many temperaments and cultural backgrounds in this first one hundred years. A growing Community which operates with every possible human difference to take into consideration, yet its members through practicing and perfecting their practice of the Bahá’í Teachings, have achieved a unity of objectives through which entirely new social patterns, standards and virtues are being evolved.

People do not like to mention religion and economics in the same breath. The problem is that of the economically disinherited who in bitter restless upsurge change periodically the pressures and controls of this world’s unstable economics. It is practical to talk of trade policies, of commerce regulations and spheres of influence, now. However, the world must soon face the fact that economic instability and the bitter struggle and suffering which go on because of it, have a question of human motives, human development, behind them. Motives behind the failure to use opportunity, or the use of it to selfishly acquire and control wealth, goods, and services, constitute the real factors causing the unhealthy inequalities, the exploitation and suppression in human society. Bahá’u’lláh stressed the need of a spiritual basis as the first step in the development of stable world economics. The extremes of poverty and vast wealth are not only matters of material opportunity and education, they are also matters of greed and slothfulness in human characters.

Material education and spiritual enlightenment must be applied to bring the kind of economic adjustments which will make possible responsible efforts for all people and insure a just distribution of wealth, goods and services for all people.

Until then, we are all, regardless of our skins, creeds and countries, caught economically between the evil extremes which are produced by the Jeeter Lesters and those masters of selfish financial genius, who, like a cancerous growth, feed upon and weaken the earth’s human and material resources.

Nothing but the wholesome regeneration of human hearts and establishment of new social objectives for the efforts and acquisitions of men, will in the final analysis remedy these ills.

The great realisms of the Bahá’í Faith lie in its new spiritual teachings and in the new social patterns which they provide for needed development of mankind; a development which will turn men from the beliefs and superstitions which are destructive to human solidarity and create in them the heart to initiate and perfect new standards, new morals and new undertakings for a great new era of civilization.

These achievements are possible when man is afforded that perfect combination of Human and Spiritual Unity. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the great expounder of the Bahá’í Teachings, has described it in these words:

Human Unity or solidarity may be likened to the body, whereas unity from the breaths of the Holy Spirit is the spirit animating the body. This is a perfect unity. It creates such a condition in mankind that each one will make sacrifices for the other and the utmost desire will be to forfeit life and all that pertains to it in behalf of another’s good. It is the unity which through the influence of the Divine Spirit is permeating the Bahá’ís, so that each offers his life for the other and strives with all sincerity to attain His good pleasure. This is the unity that caused twenty thousand people in Írán to give their lives in love and devotion to it. It made the Báb the target of a thousand arrows and caused Bahá’u’lláh to suffer exile and imprisonment for forty years. This unity is the very spirit of the body of the world.

By Elsie Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Alain Locke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!