“IF YOU SHOULD ASK a thousand persons, Abdu’l-Baha told his audience, ‘What are the proofs of the reality of Divinity?’ perhaps not one would be able to answer.”

On September 20, 1912, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the home of Albert Hall, a lawyer known for his defense of the poor, Abdu’l-Baha asked a number of rhetorical questions about spiritual reality: “What proofs have you regarding the essence of God?” he asked; “How do you explain inspiration and revelation?”; “What are the evidences of conscious intelligence beyond the material universe?”; “Can you suggest a plan and method for the betterment of human moralities?”; “Can you clearly define and differentiate the world of nature and the world of Divinity?” It is not hard to imagine, as Abdu’l-Baha had said on September 20, that “you would receive very little real knowledge and enlightenment upon these questions” if you asked them.

Abdu'l-Baha in MinneapollisAbdu’l-Baha went on to discuss several reasons for this. One was that the “development of the ideal virtues has been neglected.” People do not investigate such matters for themselves, Abdu’l-Baha argued; instead, they rely on the superstitions and traditions of the past to provide them with an understanding of spiritual concepts. The average American might have more to say about the weather than about the questions that Abdu’l-Baha posed.

Still, Abdu’l-Baha thought that the ability to talk about spiritual reality was a prerequisite for the appearance of the “ideal virtues” of humanity. In other words, it could help us to become better people. Yet discussing spiritual reality involved logic. “[W]e must be able to prove Divinity,” he told those in Minneapolis, “from the standpoint of reason so that no doubt or objection may remain for the rationalist.”

Robert Street in St. Paul, MinneaoplisThe symbols that humans create to represent Divinity, through repeated use, had replaced the broader concepts they were supposed to represent. “Divinity is not what is set forth in dogmas and sermons of the church,” Abdu’l-Baha argued. “Ordinarily when the word Divinity is mentioned, it is associated in the minds of the hearers with certain formulas and doctrines,” he noted. But the real “intellectual proofs of Divinity” were not based on tradition. Those in his company were challenged to use their powers of observation to logically prove “the reality of Divinity,” “the effulgence of mercy,” and “the certainty of inspiration and immortality of the spirit.”

Instead of uncritically following the traditions and opinions of others, Abdu’l-Baha encouraged the use of reason to investigate reality. “We must discover for ourselves where and what reality is,” he noted. “If a man’s father was a Christian, he himself is a Christian; a Buddhist is the son of a Buddhist, a Zoroastrian of a Zoroastrian.” “This is absolute imitation,” Abdu’l-Baha emphasized. “The requirement in this day is that man must independently and impartially investigate every form of reality.”

A Crowd leaving the Basilica of St. Mary in MinnesotaHow could the questions that Abdu’l-Baha initially posed be answered? “In divine questions we must not depend entirely upon the heritage of tradition and former human experience,” Abdu’l-Baha said, “nay, rather, we must exercise reason, analyze and logically examine the facts presented so that confidence will be inspired and faith attained. Then and then only the reality of things will be revealed to us.”






Read the next 239 Days in America article: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Calls On “The Great Commoner”

Read the previous 239 Days in America article: The Century of Motion


This article was originally published on September 20, 2012 at 239Days.com, a social media documentary following Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 journey through North America. © Caitlin Shayda Jones, 2012. This article may not be republished without prior written permission. Contact info@239Days.com.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.


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