From the Volume Archives

The Baha’i Faith And Problems Of Color, Class And Creed

Saturday January 1, 1944



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 For colored and white, the importance of rejecting decisively such an idea is superseded only by the urgency of finding and using the kind of faith and effort which are needed for the individual and social victories for enlightenment so essential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.