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The implications of the Baha’i concept of human justice—salvation as endless motion—relate directly to all other parts of the Baha’i paradigm of physical reality.
For example, education in a Baha’i context cannot be based solely on fostering a single pattern of behavior to befit the condition of every individual, since every individual is distinct and dwells in a unique set of circumstances. Neither can such an educational system or methodology meet the requirements of this objective if it merely imbues us with a body of facts.
Were fixed or changeless goals the Creator’s objective in creating us, then we could have been created already finished, perfected, and refined.
But even as Milton portrays the spiritualization of human beings as a process, so the Baha’i writings define our objective as independently recognizing our essentially divine origin and nature, then willfully choosing a course of action that will set us in motion, and, finally, constantly monitoring ourselves on a daily basis to ensure our continued progress:
All blessings are divine in origin but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominion which none may usurp or destroy. Briefly; it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 50.
Such an objective requires an educational system capable of ministering to us both individually and collectively, whatever our condition of knowledge or progress may be. This educational system must have infinitely flexibility to minister to the requirements of constantly changing individuals. What was a just, appropriate, and fulfilling lesson for us yesterday may be unjust or inadequate for us today. By comparison, the just or appropriate rules for a five-year-old child would be unduly restrictive and inappropriate for a fifteen-year-old youth.
The same principle of a progressive and flexible educational methodology applies equally well to the institutions that minister to the needs of society as a whole, since human society, like the individuals who comprise it, is an “ever-advancing” organism that is constantly evolving in nature. Therefore, institutions whose function is to instigate and nurture the collective progress of human society must themselves be capable of growth and adaptability.
Obviously this criterion applies to our school systems, but it applies equally well to religion. In this context Abdu’l-Baha notes that religion must respond to the changing exigencies of the human condition:
Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and nonprogressive, it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore, the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous. – Ibid., p. 140.
Autonomy as a Prerequisite for Spiritual Development
Since motion toward perfection is the Baha’i definition of salvation and fulfillment in both the physical and the spiritual worlds, we need to consider how that motion is achieved and sustained from without and from within. But first we need to acknowledge an essential attribute of that motion and a major ingredient in the Baha’i paradigm of physical reality—the autonomy of human advancement.
On the simplest level we can understand autonomy by again using the example of training a child. A youth may be trained to exhibit manners, kindness, moral behavior in all its manifestations. Certainly all parents yearn to have their progeny exhibit these attributes. But the important progress of the young soul is taking place when that motion toward human perfection becomes freely chosen, self-sustained, and autonomous.
This objective does not mean that teaching a child to mimic proper behavior is in any way wrong. One of the surest ways for us to become noble is to pretend we are and act accordingly. But this objective does imply that human justice or salvation must ultimately derive from each individual’s conscious striving and willful persistence. We may be able to impose some types of moral behavior on others, but we cannot coerce someone else to be moral. By the same token, our own spirituality cannot be accomplished or provided for us, because, Baha’u’llah states, “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.” – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143.
This autonomy of human ascent is the just and proper condition of the human being. It is, perhaps, precisely what Baha’u’llah means when He defines the attribute of justice within the individual as acquiring the capacity to “see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others” and to “know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.” In other words, without autonomy of progress or willful striving for forward motion, we may confuse brainwashing with conviction, blind imitation with authentic faith and belief.
To protect humanity from such mistaken attitudes about human enlightenment and education, Baha’u’llah ensured that each person who becomes a Baha’i must do so by his or her own choice—one cannot inherit the Baha’i Faith. Likewise, proselytizing is prohibited by Baha’u’llah—Baha’is are admonished not to “contend with any one” about matters of religion. In this way, if someone chooses to respond to the Baha’i teachings, “he will have responded to his own behoof.” Abdu’l-Baha reiterates this principle when he writes, “Do not argue with anyone, and be wary of disputation. Speak out the truth. If your hearer accepteth, the aim is achieved.” – from a letter to an individual Baha’i.