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The Baha’i teachings say that we now live in an age of spiritual awakening, an era that offers us “a path of progress into the arena of development:”

In this age of spiritual awakening, the world has entered upon the path of progress into the arena of development, where the power of the spirit surpasses that of the body. Soon the spirit will have dominion over the world of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 81.

That kind of spiritual progress, Baha’is believe, has to happen to balance the unsustainable, predominantly material progress we’ve made as a species.

The historian, author and cultural critic Kirkpatrick Sale wrote about our unbalanced material progress, saying that it produces a condition he famously called affluenza, which manifests the symptoms of “heart disease, stress, overwork, family dysfunction, alcoholism, insecurity, anomie, psychosis, loneliness, impotence, alienation, consumerism, and coldness of heart.” Do you know anyone with affluenza?

These negative psychological and spiritual symptoms of material “progress,” the Baha’i teachings say, can only correct themselves with a restoration of the balance of moral and spiritual growth, which ideally combines with material civilization to produce true progress:

… although material advancement furthers good purposes in life, at the same time it serves evil ends. The divine civilization is good because it cultivates morals. Consider what the Prophets of God have contributed to human morality. Jesus Christ summoned all to the Most Great Peace through the acquisition of pure morals. If the moral precepts and foundations of divine civilization become united with the material advancement of man, there is no doubt that the happiness of the human world will be attained and that from every direction the glad tidings of peace upon earth will be announced. Then humankind will achieve extraordinary progress, the sphere of human intelligence will be immeasurably enlarged, wonderful inventions will appear, and the spirit of God will reveal itself; all men will consort in joy and fragrance, and eternal life will be conferred upon the children of the Kingdom. Then will the power of the divine make itself effective and the breath of the Holy Spirit penetrate the essence of all things. Therefore, the material and the divine, or merciful, civilizations must progress together until the highest aspirations and desires of humanity shall become realized. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 109-110.

The Baha’i teachings expect that such a profound societal transformation will happen—but for it to occur, we must consciously create a worldwide civilization, a universal system that offers every human being the God-given individual rights and freedoms they deserve.

Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha—the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith and his successor—enumerated those rights and freedoms at length in their writings. Those principles say:

  • We all have the right to live in a world free of war.
  • We all have the right to live in a world where prejudice and racism have been consigned to the rubbish heap of obsolete doctrines.
  • We all have the right to an education.
  • We all have a right to communicate with each other—to learn and speak a universal auxiliary language.
  • We all have the right to practice our beliefs as we see fit.
  • We all have the right to gender equality.
  • We all have the right to a world free of the extremes of wealth and poverty.
  • We all have a right to equal justice under the law.
  • We all have a right to prosper and progress.

Those inherent human rights grow out of a new, spiritualized global consciousness that reflects the central Baha’i principle of the independent investigation of truth:

Sixty years ago Baha’u’llah rose up, even as the Day-Star, over Persia. He declared that the skies of the world were dark, that this darkness boded evil, and that terrible wars would come. From the prison at Akka, He addressed the German Emperor in the clearest of terms, telling him that a great war was on the way and that his city of Berlin would break forth in lamentation and wailing. Likewise did He write to the Turkish sovereign, although He was that Sultan’s victim and a captive in his prison—that is, He was being held prisoner in the Fortress at Akka—and clearly stated that Constantinople would be overtaken by a sudden and radical change, so great that the women and children of that city would mourn and cry aloud. In brief, He addressed such words to all the monarchs and the presidents, and everything came to pass, exactly as He had foretold.

There have issued, from His mighty Pen, various teachings for the prevention of war, and these have been scattered far and wide.

The first is the independent investigation of truth; for blind imitation of the past will stunt the mind. But once every soul inquireth into truth, society will be freed from the darkness of continually repeating the past. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 248.

This unique, spiritualized conception of the right to independently investigate the truth, the Baha’i teachings say, involves preventing war by giving everyone the basic freedom to think for themselves, and to express what they think:

Freedom of thought and speech enlarges the circle of one’s understanding and leads to progress and unity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 1, p. 5.

Today, the citizens of some modern democracies enjoy freedom of thought and speech, but have insufficient access to unbiased information they can trust. This limits their ability to investigate the truth, like those who live under despotic regimes, whether political or religious, who cannot investigate or freely express the truth because of legal restrictions. Both of those conditions must change because, as the Baha’i teachings say, the freedom of thought and speech are essential elements in any culture’s underlying growth and development:

Consider what a vast difference exists between modern democracy and the old forms of despotism. Under an autocratic government the opinions of men are not free, and development is stifled, whereas in democracy, because thought and speech are not restricted, the greatest progress is witnessed. It is likewise true in the world of religion. When freedom of conscience, liberty of thought and right of speech prevail—that is to say, when every man according to his own idealization may give expression to his beliefs—development and growth are inevitable. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 197.

Of course, the freedom to think and express opinions openly has a direct connection to the freedom to believe. This elemental human freedom to believe as each person sees fit and to express those beliefs openly, the Baha’i teachings suggest, has become an absolute necessity, a prerequisite for human progress:

Interference with creed and faith in every country causes manifest detriment, while justice and equal dealing towards all peoples on the face of the earth are the means whereby progress is effected. – Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 87.

Want to prevent war? Do your utmost to protect and preserve the right to the individual investigation of the truth and the freedom to express that truth.

2 Comments

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  • Bob LeBlanc
    Aug 26, 2018
    So good to see this article about the Baha'i Faith's outlook on freedom of speech and it's importance. This is such an important topic these days when certain viewpoints are now shunned and protests, sometimes violent, are made against people with opinions that don't follow the 'correct' political correctness.
  • Frederick Starr
    Aug 23, 2018
    Of course, there are some limits to freedom of speech: incitement to violence is subject to criminal penalties in most democratic countries, and slander is subject to civil penalties or lawsuits.