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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 46-49

“A corollary of the abandonment of faith in God has been a paralysis of…”

A corollary of the abandonment of faith in God has been a paralysis of ability to address effectively the problem of evil or, in many cases, even to acknowledge it. While Bahá’ís do not attribute to the phenomenon the objective existence it was assumed at earlier stages of religious history to possess, the negation of the good that evil represents, as with darkness, ignorance or disease, is severely crippling in its effect. Few publishing seasons pass that do not offer the educated reader a range of new and imaginative analyses of the character of some of the monstrous figures who, during the twentieth century, systematically tortured, degraded and exterminated millions of their fellow human beings. One is invited by scholarly authority to ponder the weight that should be given, variously, to paternal abuse, social rejection, professional disappointments, poverty, injustice, war experiences, possible genetic impairment, nihilistic literature—or various combinations of the foregoing—in seeking to understand the obsessions fuelling an apparently bottomless hatred of humankind. Conspicuously missing from such contemporary speculation is what experienced commentators, even as recently as a century ago, would have recognized as spiritual disease, whatever its accompanying features.
If unity is indeed the litmus test of human progress, neither history nor Heaven will readily forgive those who 47 choose deliberately to raise their hands against it. In trusting, people lower their defences and open themselves to others. Without doing so, there is no way in which they can commit themselves wholeheartedly to shared goals. Nothing is so devastating as suddenly to discover that, for the other party, commitments made in good faith have represented no more than an advantage gained, a means of achieving concealed objectives different from, or even inimical to, what had ostensibly been undertaken together. Such betrayal is a persistent thread in human history that found one of its earliest recorded expressions in the ancient tale of Cain’s jealousy of the brother whose faith God had chosen to confirm. If the appalling suffering endured by the earth’s peoples during the twentieth century has left a lesson, it lies in the fact that the systemic disunity, inherited from a dark past and poisoning relations in every sphere of life, could throw open the door in this age to demonic behaviour more bestial than anything the mind had dreamed possible.
If evil has a name, it is surely the deliberate violation of the hard-won covenants of peace and reconciliation by which people of goodwill seek to escape the past and to build together a new future. By its very nature, unity requires self-sacrifice. “…self-love”, the Master states, “is kneaded into the very clay of man.” 1 The ego, termed by Him the “insistent self”, 2 resists instinctively constraints imposed on what it conceives to be its freedom. To willingly forgo the satisfactions that licence affords, the individual must come to believe that fulfilment lies elsewhere. Ultimately, it lies, as it has always done, in the soul’s submission to God. 48
Failure to meet the challenge of such submission has manifested itself with especially devastating consequences throughout the centuries in betrayal of the Messengers of God and of the ideals they taught. This discussion is not the place for a review of the nature and provisions of the specific Covenant by means of which Bahá’u’lláh has successfully preserved the unity of those who recognize Him and serve His purpose. It is sufficient to note the strength of the language He reserves for its deliberate violation by those who simultaneously pretend allegiance to it: “They that have turned away therefrom are reckoned among the inmates of the nethermost fire in the sight of thy Lord, the Almighty, the Unconstrained.” 3 The reason for the severity of this condemnation is obvious. Few people have difficulty in recognizing the danger to social well-being of such familiar crimes as murder, rape or fraud, nor the need for society to take effective measures of self-protection. But how are Bahá’ís to think about a perversity which, if unchecked, would destroy the very means essential to the creation of unity—would, in the uncompromising words of the Master, “become even as an axe striking at the very root of the Blessed Tree”? 4 The issue is not one of intellectual dissent, nor even of moral weakness. Many people are resistant to accepting authority of one kind or another, and eventually distance themselves from circumstances that require it. Persons who have been attracted to the Bahá’í Faith but who decide, for whatever reason, to leave it are entirely free to do so.
Covenant-breaking is a phenomenon fundamentally different in nature. The impulse it arouses in those under 49 its influence is not simply to pursue freely whatever path they believe leads to personal fulfilment or contribution to society. Rather, are such persons driven by an apparently ungovernable determination to impose their personal will on the community by any means available to them, without regard for the damage done and without respect for the solemn undertakings they entered into on being accepted as members of that community. Ultimately, the self becomes the overriding authority, not only in the individual’s own life, but in whatever other lives can be successfully influenced. As long and tragic experience has demonstrated all too certainly, endowments such as distinguished lineage, intellect, education, piety or social leadership can be harnessed, equally, to the service of humanity or to that of personal ambition. In ages past, when spiritual priorities of a different nature were the focus of the Divine purpose, the consequences of such rebellion did not vitiate the central message of any of the successive revelations of God. Today, with the immense opportunities and horrific dangers that physical unification of the planet has brought with it, commitment to the requirements of unity becomes the touchstone of all professions of devotion to the will of God or, for that matter, to the well-being of humankind.
1. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990), page 96.   [ Back To Reference]
2. Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1997), page 256.   [ Back To Reference]
3. Bahá’u’lláh, from a previously untranslated Tablet.   [ Back To Reference]
4. Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1944), page 25.   [ Back To Reference]