As a liberal arts student at an excellent university, I tried to learn the best that human beings had thought and wrought, whether in art, in architecture, in literature, in philosophy, in history, in religion, or in science. But while the courses were taught as discrete arenas of learning, the Baha’i Faith increasingly enabled me to see in every one of these fields an encompassing and logical relationship.
While it would be impossible and, for the present purposes, entirely unnecessary to catalogue the critical links and vistas of insights this new balance of those subjects unveiled before me, a few of them immediately transformed the drudgery of classes into a personal adventure in which everything in creation revealed some relevance and connection to everything else in creation.
Perhaps the and most exciting way in which my study of the Baha’i Faith enhanced and coordinated my understanding of all I learned in these diverse courses in these ostensibly unrelated fields was my progressively more acute appreciation of the theory that underlying the evolution of all human advancement and knowledge was a single motive force—the advent from the realm of the spirit of divine prophets and messengers, who Baha’is allude to as “manifestations” of God:
The holy Manifestations of God were sent down to make visible the oneness of humanity. For this did They endure unnumbered ills and tribulations, that a community from amongst mankind’s divergent peoples could gather within the shadow of the Word of God and live as one, and could, with delight and grace, demonstrate on earth the unity of humankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 278.
According to the Baha’i theory of human history, all advancement of society and learning proceeds or emanates from the successive periodic appearances of these divinely-ordained teachers. They appear approximately every five hundred to a thousand years at various places on the planet, bringing new religious dispensations designed to educate and spiritualize humanity.
As I attempted to apply this over-arching theoretical paradigm to world history, as well as to what had occurred in literature and philosophy and social and political movements throughout that history, I began to discern this divine organizing force at work. Suddenly, all my studies began to make sense in terms of this larger expression of human purpose.
I came to theorize that the emergence of classical Greek philosophy ultimately may have had its beginning in the influence of Jewish thinkers. I came to examine how the Roman Empire rode the crest of the wave of emerging Christianity. I came to perceive how the Renaissance in Western Christendom may have actually emanated from the influence of the Islamic dispensation. I came to see in particular how the advent of the Baha’i Era was the primal motive force behind the Industrial Revolution and behind all the astounding transformation in global society that has taken place in the short span of little more than one and half centuries.
My understanding of this integrative force in human advancement hardly confined itself to the more recent influence of the Abrahamic religions. I could discern the same process at work under Hinduism in the Indian sub-continent, with Buddhism in the great Chinese dynasties, with Zoroastrianism and the eminence of the Persian Empire, with someone like Akhenaton and the Egyptian Empire, as well as the influence of Quetzalcoatl in Central and South America. The same process happened among even more ancient messengers whose names are forever lost to the memory of man, though remnants of their influence linger in Africa, in the Australian Continent, and among the peoples of the South Pacific Island nations. Baha’is believe that no place on Earth has gone without the influx of this divine guidance.
I don’t mean to imply that I had researched all this or that I had achieved some breakthrough in anthropology in conjunction with the Baha’i theory of “progressive revelation.” I simply mean that I experienced the foundational beginnings in my personal world view of infinite possibilities of the applicability of this concept to all my studies. This new vista of learning, this integrating principle, excited me as nothing had before, because it demonstrated to me that nothing I studied was isolated from anything else I studied, that every field of learning was really a single vector of insight that, when assembled with other such vectors, could implicate an image about the whole of reality itself.
Before this, I had proceeded in all these discrete areas of learning like the blindfolded men in the proverbial story who examine various parts of an elephant and argue about the validity of their individual perceptions: it is skinny like a whip, says the tailist; it is thick, round, and straight like a tree trunk, says the leggist; it is flat and thick like a blanket, says the earist. It is possible that over time these experts in their separate fields of study might cease contending, might consult, collaborate, and assemble their findings to emerge with some consensus about the reality of the elephant. But how much more rapid their progress would be were one to appear among them who had already seen the entire elephant, who knew how all the pieces of the elephant fit together, and, most important of all, who would gladly share with them this integrating vision of reality as a whole.
This was precisely what I began to believe Baha’u’llah and all the prophets before him had done: to appear among us to remove our blindfolds, so that all who sincerely desired to know the truth about reality could see the “wholeness” of it for themselves.
Next: Thieves in the Night: Comprehending the Trinity