Turn on the news and you will quickly see that everything is not okay in the world at large.
The staggering statistics of global poverty are limb-shaking. Meanwhile, the chasm of injustice seems only to widen as international terrorism becomes increasingly terrible. The Earth’s environment groans under the onslaught of pollution. Despondency and despair prevail. What can we do in a crisis that seems insurmountable?
As a Baha’i, I take comfort in the belief that despite the destruction in the world, there are also forces of construction at work. Even more reassuring: the Baha’i teachings actually provide solutions to these major global problems.
To understand the Baha’i approach to building a better world, I think it is helpful to view it from the micro-level up to the macro-level, and realize that there are many interconnected approaches across this spectrum.
The most fundamental agent of change is the individual. So first, the Baha’i teachings say, each individual needs to develop a unifying consciousness. According to Baha’u’llah:
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. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250.
Each of us needs to understand ourselves as a citizen of the world, and then a citizen of a particular country.
We also need to transform ourselves. Baha’u’llah counsels:
Our minds and hearts need to be purified so that we can mirror God’s qualities, such as kindness, love and honesty. Naturally, when our inner selves embody God’s virtues, these qualities will be expressed through our character and our actions and will positively influence the world:
To this end, Abdul-Baha encourages everyone to:
… strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 74.
When we develop ourselves spiritually, we will have an impact on the world. Our actions, guided by our inner spiritual state, will create ripples that will move out into the world.
These ripples will first influence our families. A family consisting of spiritual individuals will naturally be a harmonious family, because the members will not be self-seeking; they will live for the good of each other. So important is this family unity that Confucius regarded it as the heart of social change.
Moving out from the family, and also guided by our individual character and deeds, are the interpersonal relationships we have with others: friends, neighbors, colleagues. As more and more individuals interact with each other guided by spiritual principles, this web of relationships will be harmonized. A key mechanism of this harmony is consultation—being able to converse, discuss issues and dialogue with others in an open, selfless and considerate manner.
From here we move to the level of community engagement, currently a key focus of the Baha’i world. At this level, Baha’is hold children’s classes, junior youth groups, study circles and devotional meetings, with the aim of unifying and spiritualizing entire communities.
This kind of grassroots activism leads to a true understanding of the realities of a community—and the awareness of the needs of that community rises. This then forms the basis of social and economic projects which organically evolve to fulfil the needs of a given community and may range from literacy to health to recreation, all contributing to wider social change.
Also at the social level, but perhaps more far reaching, is engagement in the discourses of society. Bahai’s endeavor to take part in meaningful discussions with others that will have a positive effect on society.
From here we move up to the more administrative aspects of Bahai life. Because humanity is at an adolescent stage in its development, it is still in need of formal guidance. We are not yet the spiritualized beings that we will be in the future, the majority of whom as Abdu’l-Baha says, will regulate their own behavior using their own conscience. We still need leadership and laws.
Knowing that “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens,” Baha’is believe humanity needs a global government to administer the affairs of the world in an equitable manner. When some people think about the possibility of a world government, they start thinking of a totalitarian state like the one Orwell depicted in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
But if a democratically-elected global government were to organically emerge out of elections from the local to the national level, then it would be the choice of all the people of the world. This would be further strengthened by the spiritualizing process sparked at the individual level—virtuous individuals will choose virtuous leaders.
Along with a world government, there are some laws that Bahai’s believe would help to unify the world, namely, a single currency, a universal auxiliary language, compulsory education and a fair system of taxation to be used for social welfare.
The fundamental principles of the Baha’i Faith underly this entire process: the oneness of humanity, the essential harmony of all religions, the equality of men and women, freedom of prejudice, the agreement of science and religion, and the independent investigation of truth. These principles, along with the inner spiritual virtues, guide Baha’i efforts at every point on the spectrum, from local to international.
Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of their Faith, has diagnosed the ailments of this age and prescribed a beautiful, comprehensive remedy:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213.