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As the world becomes a less secure place and what used to work breaks down with alarming frequency, I find one question being asked of Baha’is more often: are you Baha’is apathetic? No! Never! I answer.
I understand how people might think that way, though, since Baha’is don’t align themselves with political parties, and since Baha’is don’t take part in divisive partisanship or criticize those personalities who delight in division. When I answer the question, the follow-up questions often go, “Don’t you see what’s going on? and what are you doing about it?”
Yes, we see, and the world’s dysfunction is every bit as stressful for Baha’is as it is for everyone else. Disunity and the tragic consequences sow pain everywhere. Baha’is themselves have become the innocent victims of those terrible tragedies in many places in the world right now. But Baha’is are exhorted to another level of understanding of what is happening and why, and through that, the world’s Baha’is universally offer service to humanity to remediate the effects of a world-embracing seismic shift – what the Baha’i writings characterize as the impending establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth.
Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote “… the light of unity hath shone forth above the horizon of the world, and the law of oneness hath been revealed amidst the nations …” Baha’is believe that this new spiritual dispensation Baha’u’llah brought has begun to alter the fundamental ways we relate to one another as human beings – and that a new cycle of spiritual power will continue to bring about transformative change, with the world ultimately evolving into a new world where all humanity lives as one family.
Massive historic transitions, coupled with the human resistance to change, have never been easy. In his book Citadel of Faith Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, ever aware of the inherent pitfalls for everyone in turbulent times, cautioned:
Now as never before should you strive mightily to free yourselves from the obstacles of apathy, attachment to worldly pursuits, and lethargy, which stand in the way of so glorious a realization. As the people around you yearn increasingly for a society in which rectitude of conduct prevails, which is animated by a nobility of moral behavior, and in which the diverse races are firmly united, your challenge is to demonstrate the efficacy of the Message of Baha’u’llah in ministering to their needs and in recreating the very foundation of individual and social life.
Reflecting on the scope of the challenge, how does one even begin to address it?
For Baha’is, our understanding is that Baha’u’llah, the messenger of God for this day, has already provided the blueprint to move humanity safely into the future. That blueprint, based on the unity of the human family, will not magically manifest itself, however. Instead, its gradual appearance will require faith, prayer, and action for everyone. To take part in fostering more disunity would mean draining time and energy away from those constructive pursuits.
However, to accomplish these noble goals everyone must overcome two major hurdles: apathy and lethargy. Fueled by a 24-hour negative news cycle, they can make it difficult to realize that with an inevitable disintegration, there is, concurrently, a process of integration and rebuilding also taking place.
So basically, Baha’is and others you may know work constantly to establish a unifying foundation of community building. Rather than attend to the societal symptoms of disunity and hatred, Baha’is attempt to attack the underlying disease itself. That quiet work doesn’t often grab headlines, because those local activities involve people like you and me bringing individuals and neighborhoods together.
First, because we have no clergy Baha’is individually teach the principles of the Baha’i Faith, through not only words but actions offering spiritual solutions. Baha’is then seek to form bonds with other like-minded people, who are often not Baha’is, freely offering core activities such as devotional meetings, courses for spiritual deepening for adults, and children’s’ and youth classes at the community level. This spiritualizing influence, given out of kindness and love, means that solutions are sought and activities planned through interaction and consultation with others.
Service to humanity drives this enterprise and not only elevates participants but infuses a spiritual energy into the places where they live. This altruistic service follows Baha’u’llah’s counsel to “Concern yourselves with the things that benefit mankind …” and “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
Humanity, the Baha’i teachings say, is moving into our collective era of adulthood. This maturity means we are now capable of understanding what it will take to recreate the very foundations of individual and social life. It just remains to do it, and in that daunting task apathy and lethargy have no place.
The world’s Baha’is have received a clarion call, for as Abdu’l-Baha tells us, “Baha’u’llah has drawn the circle of unity. He has made a design for the uniting of all the peoples, and for the gathering of them all under the shelter of the tent of universal unity.”
But this explanation only offers a brief overview of the broad social change work Baha’is are doing – just some basic information about what you’ll likely experience when you connect with your local Baha’i community. If you want more detail, feel free to explore https://news.bahai.org, the site of the Baha’i World News Service, where you’ll find inspiring stories of local, national, and international Baha’i involvement in the world at large – offering hope, healing, and a concrete plan for the future of humanity.