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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 42-46

“The power through which these goals will be progressively realized is…”

The power through which these goals will be progressively realized is that of unity. Although to Bahá’ís the most obvious of truths, its implications for the current crisis of civilization appear to escape most contemporary discourse. Few will disagree that the universal disease sapping the health of the body of humankind is that of disunity. Its manifestations everywhere cripple political will, debilitate the collective urge to change, and poison national and religious relationships. How strange, then, that unity is regarded as a goal to be attained, if at all, in a distant future, after a host of disorders in social, political, economic and moral life have been addressed and somehow or other resolved. Yet the latter are essentially symptoms and side effects of the problem, not its root cause. Why has so fundamental an inversion of reality come to be widely accepted? The answer is presumably because the achievement of genuine unity of mind and heart among peoples whose experiences are deeply at variance is thought to be entirely beyond the capacity of society’s existing institutions. While this tacit admission is a welcome advance over the understanding of processes of social evolution that prevailed a few decades ago, it is of limited practical assistance in responding to the challenge.
Unity is a condition of the human spirit. Education can support and enhance it, as can legislation, but they can do so only once it emerges and has established itself as a compelling force in social life. A global intelligentsia, its prescriptions largely shaped by materialistic 43 misconceptions of reality, clings tenaciously to the hope that imaginative social engineering, supported by political compromise, may indefinitely postpone the potential disasters that few deny loom over humanity’s future. “We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions”, Bahá’u’lláh states. “They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy.” 1 As unity is the remedy for the world’s ills, its one certain source lies in the restoration of religion’s influence in human affairs. The laws and principles revealed by God, in this day, Bahá’u’lláh declares, “are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men.” 2 “Whatsoever is raised on this foundation, the changes and chances of the world can never impair its strength, nor will the revolution of countless centuries undermine its structure.” 3
Central to Bahá’u’lláh’s mission, therefore, has been the creation of a global community that would reflect the oneness of humankind. The ultimate testimony that the Bahá’í community can summon in vindication of His mission is the example of unity that His teachings have produced. As it enters the twenty-first century, the Bahá’í Cause is a phenomenon unlike anything else the world has seen. After decades of effort, in which surges of growth alternated with long stretches of consolidation, 44 often shadowed by setbacks, the Bahá’í community today comprises several million people representative of virtually every ethnic, cultural, social and religious background on earth, administering their collective affairs without the intervention of a clergy, through democratically elected institutions. The many thousands of localities in which it has put down its roots are to be found in every country, territory and significant island group, from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, from Africa to the Pacific. The assertion that this community may already constitute the most diverse and geographically widespread of any similarly organized body of people on the planet is unlikely to be challenged by one familiar with the evidence.
The achievement calls out for understanding. Conventional explanations—access to wealth, the patronage of powerful political interests, invocations of the occult or aggressive programmes of proselytism that instil fear of Divine wrath—none have played any role in the events involved. Adherents of the Faith have achieved a sense of identity as members of a single human race, an identity that shapes the purpose of their lives and that, clearly, is not the expression of any intrinsic moral superiority on their own part: “O people of Bahá! That there is none to rival you is a sign of mercy.” 4 A fair-minded observer is compelled to entertain at least the possibility that the phenomenon may represent the operation of influences entirely different in nature from the familiar ones—influences that can properly be described only as spiritual—capable of eliciting extraordinary feats of sacrifice and understanding from ordinary people of every background. 45
Particularly striking has been the fact that the Bahá’í Cause has been able to maintain the unity thus achieved, unbroken and unimpaired, through the most vulnerable early stages of its existence. One will search in vain for another association of human beings in history—political, religious, or social—that has successfully survived the perennial blight of schism and faction. The Bahá’í community, in all its diversity, is a single body of people, one in its understanding of the intent of the revelation of God that gave it birth, one in its devotion to the Administrative Order that its Author created for the governance of its collective affairs, one in its commitment to the task of disseminating His message throughout the planet. Over the decades of its rise, several individuals, some of them highly placed and all of them driven by the spur of ambition, did their utmost to create separate followings loyal to themselves or to the personal interpretations they had imposed on Bahá’u’lláh’s writings. At earlier stages in the evolution of religion, similar attempts had proved successful in splitting the newborn faiths into competing sects. In the case of the Bahá’í Cause, however, such intrigues have failed, without exception, to produce more than transient outbursts of controversy whose net effect has been to deepen the community’s understanding of its Founder’s purpose and its commitment to it. “So powerful is the light of unity”, Bahá’u’lláh assures those who recognize Him, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.” 5 Human nature being what it is, one can readily appreciate the Guardian’s anticipation that this purifying process will long continue—paradoxically but necessarily—46 to be an integral feature of the maturation of the Bahá’í community.
1. Gleanings, section CVI.   [ Back To Reference]
2. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, page 129.   [ Back To Reference]
3. Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pages 202–203.   [ Back To Reference]
4. Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, page 84.   [ Back To Reference]
5. Gleanings, section CXXXII.   [ Back To Reference]