Many people think of world peace as an idealistic dream—but Baha’is believe that world peace is actually inevitable.
The Baha’i teachings say that humanity can either unite voluntarily and consciously establish peaceable relations between all peoples and nations—or we can continue to wage enormously destructive and devastating wars, and by doing so be led, exhausted, depleted and defeated, toward a forced and enforced unification brought about by absolute necessity.
In other words, we can actively choose peace by recognizing and acting on our essential human unity.
But regardless of which direction we take, peace will ultimately come to humanity, Baha’u’llah wrote, when humanity finally decides we have had enough war:
These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come. Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind. … These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family. … Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind. … – The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. viii.
You can read much of the accumulated wisdom and guidance from the Baha’i teachings on world peace in a document delivered to the world’s leaders in 1985, when the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected governing body of the worldwide Baha’i Community, released a statement called The Promise of World Peace:
The Great Peace towards which people of goodwill throughout the centuries have inclined their hearts, of which seers and poets for countless generations have expressed their vision, and for which from age to age the sacred scriptures of mankind have constantly held the promise, is now at long last within the reach of the nations. For the first time in history it is possible for everyone to view the entire planet, with all its myriad diversified peoples, in one perspective. World peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet—in the words of one great thinker, “the planetization of mankind.” – The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 680.
With that phrase—“the planetization of mankind”—the Universal House of Justice quoted the theologian and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, from his book The Future of Man, encapsulating one of the central Baha’i ideas and ideals. The Baha’i teachings say that we evolve as a species the same way we do as individuals—from one stage of spiritual development to another. Now, Baha’is believe, the stage has arrived in humanity’s evolutionary path that will allow us to achieve world unity and universal peace.
However, one major conceptual barrier stands in our way:
… a paralyzing contradiction has developed in human affairs. On the one hand, people of all nations proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony, for an end to the harrowing apprehensions tormenting their daily lives. On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious, a system giving free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on co-operation and reciprocity.
As the need for peace becomes more urgent, this fundamental contradiction, which hinders its realization, demands a reassessment of the assumptions upon which the commonly held view of mankind’s historical predicament is based. Dispassionately examined, the evidence reveals that such conduct, far from expressing man’s true self, represents a distortion of the human spirit. Satisfaction on this point will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature, will encourage harmony and co-operation instead of war and conflict. – Ibid., p. 682.
Now, more than three decades after the Universal House of Justice wrote this message, scientists and researchers have begun to agree with that conclusion.
Baha’is believe in the inherent, inborn nobility of the true human self. We, as a species, are not inherently mean, hostile or violent. Humanity does not have to face an eternal future of selfishness, violence, warfare and death. Instead, we can look forward to real and lasting peace, brought about by a spiritual reawakening of selflessness and service to others.
First, though, we have to figure out a way to stop humanity’s violent tendencies. In the next essay in this series, we’ll explore the Baha’i teachings on violence.