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One Common Faith

  • Author:
  • Bahá’í World Centre

  • Source:
  • Bahá’í World Centre, 2005 edition
  • Pages:
  • 56
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Pages 38-41

“The exigencies of the new age of human experience to which…”

The exigencies of the new age of human experience to which Bahá’u’lláh summoned the political and religious rulers of the nineteenth century world have now been largely adopted, at least as ideals, by their successors and by progressive minds everywhere. By the time the twentieth century had drawn to a close, principles that had, only short decades earlier, been patronized as visionary and hopelessly unrealistic had become central to global discourse. Buttressed by the findings of scientific research and the conclusions of influential commissions—often lavishly funded—they direct the work of powerful agencies at international, national and local levels. A vast body of scholarly literature in many languages is devoted to exploring practical means for their implementation, and those programmes can count on media attention on five continents.
Most of these principles are, alas, also widely flouted, not only among recognized enemies of social peace, but in circles professedly committed to them. What is lacking is not convincing testimony as to their relevance, but the power of moral conviction that can implement them, a power whose only demonstrably reliable source throughout history has been religious faith. As late as the inception of Bahá’u’lláh’s own mission, religious authority still 39 exercised a significant degree of social influence. When the Christian world was moved to break with millennia of unquestioning conviction and address at last the evil of slavery, it was to Biblical ideals that the early British reformers sought to appeal. Subsequently, in the defining address he gave regarding the central role played by the issue in the great conflict in America, the president of the United States warned that if “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ’the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.” 1 That era, however, was swiftly drawing to a close. In the upheavals that followed the Second World War, even so influential a figure as Mohandas Gandhi proved unable to mobilize the spiritual power of Hinduism in support of his efforts to extinguish sectarian violence on the Indian subcontinent. Nor were leaders of the Islamic community any more effective in this respect. As prefigured in the Qur’án’s metaphorical vision of “The Day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll”, 2 the once unchallengeable authority of the traditional religions had ceased to direct humanity’s social relations.
It is in this context that one begins to appreciate Bahá’u’lláh’s choice of imagery about the will of God for a new age: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.” 3 Through His revelation, the principles required for the collective coming of age of the human race have been invested with the one power capable of penetrating to 40 the roots of human motivation and of altering behaviour. For those who have recognized Him, equality of men and women is not a sociological postulate, but revealed truth about human nature, with implications for every aspect of human relations. The same is true of His teaching of the principle of racial oneness. Universal education, freedom of thought, the protection of human rights, recognition of the earth’s vast resources as a trust for the whole of humankind, society’s responsibility for the well-being of its citizenry, the promotion of scientific research, even so practical a principle as an international auxiliary language that will advance integration of the earth’s peoples—for all who respond to Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation, these and similar precepts carry the same compelling authority as do the injunctions of scripture against idolatry, theft and false witness. While intimations of some can be perceived in earlier sacred writings, their definition and prescription had necessarily to wait until the planet’s heterogeneous populations could set out together on the discovery of their nature as a single human race. Through spiritual empowerment brought by Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation the Divine standards can be appreciated, not as isolated principles and laws, but as facets of a single, all-embracing vision of humanity’s future, revolutionary in purpose, intoxicating in the possibilities it opens.
Integral to these teachings are principles that address the administration of humanity’s collective affairs. A widely quoted passage in Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet to Queen Victoria expresses emphatic praise of the principle of democratic and constitutional government, but is also 41 an admonition about the context of global responsibility in which that principle must operate if it is to realize its purpose in this age: “O ye the elected representatives of the people in every land! Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind and bettereth the condition thereof, if ye be of them that scan heedfully. Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies. Not for one day did it gain ease, nay its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of ignorant physicians, who gave full rein to their personal desires and have erred grievously. And if, at one time, through the care of an able physician, a member of that body was healed, the rest remained afflicted as before.” 4 In other passages, Bahá’u’lláh spells out some of the practical implications. The governments of the world are called upon to convene an international consultative body as the foundation, in the words of the Guardian, of “a world federal system” 5 empowered to safeguard the autonomy and territory of its state members, resolve national and regional disputes and coordinate programmes of global development for the good of the entire human race. Significantly, Bahá’u’lláh attributes to this system, once established, the right to suppress by force acts of aggression by one state against another. Addressing the rulers of His day, He asserts the clear moral authority of such action: “Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.” 6
1. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).   [ Back To Reference]
2. Qur’án, surih 21, verse 104.   [ Back To Reference]
3. Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph 5.   [ Back To Reference]
4. The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, paragraph 174.   [ Back To Reference]
5. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, page 204.   [ Back To Reference]
6. Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, page 192.   [ Back To Reference]