The Baha’i teachings praise the technological development of modern material civilization—but warn us about its dire consequences, too.
Without the light of spiritual power illuminating our advanced modern civilization, Baha’is believe, the materialistic aims it seeks will inevitably lead it to darkness and destruction.
An interesting incident occurred while Abdu’l-Baha was in Paris. In a conversation with the Japanese ambassador to Spain, Viscount Arawaka, Abdu’l-Baha presciently remarked:
Scientific discoveries have increased material civilization. There is in existence a stupendous force, as yet, happily, undiscovered by man. Let us supplicate God, the Beloved, that this force be not discovered by science until spiritual civilization shall dominate the human mind. In the hands of men of lower material nature, this power would be able to destroy the whole earth. – Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, p. 51.
Baha’u’llah explained that all human advancement has resulted from the spiritual energy released by the messengers of God—which is why Baha’is believe the miraculous scientific advances of the modern age can be attributed to Baha’u’llah’s appearance in the world.
Humanity’s material progress is the necessary complement to the spiritual progress it will also make as the result of the revelation of Baha’u’llah. Peace will finally be established when our material and spiritual pursuits are in complete harmony. Abdu’l-Baha turned again to the analogy of a bird to describe this basic interdependency:
For man two wings are necessary. One wing is physical power and material civilization; the other is spiritual power and divine civilization. With one wing only, flight is impossible. Two wings are essential. Therefore, no matter how much material civilization advances, it cannot attain to perfection except through the uplift of spiritual civilization. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 12.
Observing the proliferation of armaments, he once remarked:
And among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with Divine civilization, the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombers—all these weapons of war are the malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with Divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather, human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and would have been concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries. Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. It has thus been made evident that the world of mankind is in need of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit the world of mankind is lifeless, and without this light the world of mankind is in utter darkness. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 303-304.