Are there forces in the world that help human beings strive for the more spiritual states of existence?
Yes, there are, the Baha’i teachings tell us—those forces help deliver us “from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities.” Abdu’l-Baha explained:
The holy Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of the animal, or physical, nature of man, to purify him from his imperfections in order that his heavenly and spiritual nature may become quickened, his divine qualities awakened, his perfections visible, his potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within him may come to life. These holy Manifestations of God are the Educators and Trainers of the world of existence, the Teachers of the world of humanity. They liberate man from the darkness of the world of nature, deliver him from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities. They clothe him in the garment of perfections and exalted virtues. Men are ignorant; the Manifestations of God make them wise. They are animalistic; the Manifestations make them human. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 139.
These manifestations of God—the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths—bring us a progressive set of spiritual and moral teachings designed to lift our inner characters up from error to truth.
It was precisely because America was so fraught with ills such as its excessive materialism, racial prejudice, political corruption and laxity in moral standards that Shoghi Effendi asked the North American Baha’is particularly “… to weed out, by every means in their power, those faults, habits, and tendencies which they have inherited from their own nation.” – The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 20. He went on to say:
… let them focus their attention, for the present, on their own selves, their individual needs, their own personal deficiencies and weaknesses, ever mindful that every intensification of effort on their part will better equip them for the time when they will be called upon to eradicate in their turn such evil tendencies from the lives and hearts of the entire body of their fellow-citizens. – Ibid.
In other words, don’t talk the talk, but rather walk the walk.
The Baha’i writings are replete with examples of detachment from worldly affections and corrupt inclinations. Baha’u’llah wrote:
If the whole earth were to be converted into silver and gold, no man who can be said to have truly ascended into the heaven of faith and certitude would deign to regard it, much less to seize and keep it. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 298.
This doesn’t mean you can’t buy that newer car you were saving up for to replace your failing one, or purchase clothes for yourself or your children, or put tasty food on the kitchen table. Instead, it means exercising moderation when it comes to the material things of the world:
A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 59.
Many of us live in societies surrounded by excess, by non-stop advertising to buy products and services, or join or donate to one of thousands of organizations soliciting your aid. It’s not the buying or joining or donating that’s bad, in and of themselves, it’s the unbridled consumption of what they are selling.
But moderation is not enough to demonstrate to others who we are and how we live, how we care for and treat others, and how we want a better world for everyone. Action is needed, and what better place than to start on our own conduct?
In The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi says:
This rectitude of conduct, with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness, must distinguish every phase of the life of the Baha’i community. – p. 23.
In every age, for a time, the character of the prophet’s followers was improved to the point of being a dynamic example for others. That example changed lives for the better. In those early days of every great Faith, the believers themselves—and their just, equitable and honest conduct—had a massive influence on culture and history. They were recreated by the word of God. Where once they were hate-filled, they became loving servants. Where once they were greedy, they became generous. Every virtue became theirs. Our world was made the better for it. Now it is our turn.