The moral implications of the oneness of humanity give the mission of the Baha’i Faith its meaning and purpose.
Abdu’l-Baha, a central figure in the early years of the Baha’i Faith, once began a talk by stating:
… in this great century the most important accomplishment is the unity of mankind. Although in former centuries and times this subject received some measure of mention and consideration, it has now become the paramount issue and question in the religious and political conditions of the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 228.
Abdu’l-Baha always expressed the teachings of the Baha’i faith with clear and simple words—but simple does not mean simplistic. The oneness of humanity is a concept with many shades of meaning in the Baha’i Faith, and it carries a range of social and spiritual overtones that I can’t possibly claim to have mastered—let alone express in the short confines of this article. One theme that I will dwell on, however, is its essential association with activity and movement.
The oneness of humanity is not just a passive theory or doctrine. For Baha’is it is something knowable that motivates us to love and serve one another. This comes through in another passage from that talk of Abdu’l-Baha’s:
The teachings specialized in Baha’u’llah are addressed to humanity. He says, “Ye are all the leaves of one tree.” He does not say, “Ye are the leaves of two trees: one divine, the other satanic.” … God alone is Creator, and all are creatures of His might. Therefore, we must love mankind as His creatures, realizing that all are growing upon the tree of His mercy, servants of His omnipotent will and manifestations of His good pleasure. – Ibid., p. 230.
This significant passage pivots on the word, therefore, which is one of my favorite words that Abdu’l-Baha seems to give a special usage. “Therefore, we must love mankind as His creatures …” Here and in many other places, he doesn’t just use the word therefore to arrive at an intellectual conclusion. He uses it to show that knowledge of a particular idea logically implies a spiritual and practical response of some kind. It means, I acknowledge the oneness of humanity—so therefore, I must show love to everyone. It implies the process of knowledge becoming action.
So to acknowledge the oneness of humanity is not just to affirm a belief or opinion. If the act penetrates the soul, it unfolds into the conscience of the individual a profound responsibility to live and act for the well-being of others. Knowledge of the oneness of humanity is not a bed to rest on. It is a constant inner love that persistently impels us to do something for the good of others.
For those who are oppressed, this may be about resisting the temptation to think only of one’s own interests and to forget the needs of those who suffer the same burdens. It can imply finding the strength to speak up and demand from one’s abusers that they also acknowledge the oneness that connects us. For those steeped in privilege, acknowledging oneness can mean dismantling the social practices, ideologies, and structures that elevate one portion of humanity over another. Regardless of one’s personal situation, acknowledging oneness implies that no standard exists to determine that one life is objectively more important than another. It entails working constructively for the emergence of a new social order that places all people on a plane of equal dignity and opportunity.
Abdu’l-Baha calls on us to look at each other as children of one God. Our shared creator has imprinted on us a common form. When we look with spiritual eyes upon the needs of others, we see our own reflection:
Humanity shares in common the intellectual and spiritual faculties of a created endowment. All are equally subject to the various exigencies of human life and are similarly occupied in acquiring the means of earthly subsistence. From the viewpoint of creation human beings stand upon the same footing in every respect, subject to the same requirements and seeking the enjoyment and comfort of earthly conditions. Therefore, the things humanity shares in common are numerous and manifest. This equal participation in the physical, intellectual and spiritual problems of human existence is a valid basis for the unification of mankind. – Ibid., p. 229.
The world we live in now is built on different foundations from these—but another, better world is possible. Therefore, the knowledge of the oneness of humanity illumines our great responsibility to transform society in its light.