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For the Baha’is, and for many people, the concept of a world order — a federation of the globe’s nations, a universal tribunal, a Parliament of Man — represents the inevitable next step in our collective maturation; humanity’s best hope for peace, justice and the protection of our planet’s environment.
But for some, the thought of a world order brings up fears of a dystopian, Orwellian regime with totalitarian aims – something to be avoided at all costs. A world order ruled by religious teachings, or conceived as a one-religion authoritarian state, frightens others even more.
As they describe what form and functions a future world order could potentially fulfill, the Baha’i teachings also explain how that vision of a new global government would guard against such negative dystopian outcomes. In this portion of our exploration of the idea of theocracy, let’s take a look at those safeguards and consider them.
Most importantly, the Baha’i Faith incorporates, at its very core, the democratic ideal. Every Baha’i decision-making body is democratically-elected, and no clergy exists in the Baha’i Faith. That fact in itself rules out the possibility of a Baha’i theocracy:
The foundation of this Cause is pure spiritual democracy, and not theocracy. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 449.
Also – and this point is critical in understanding Baha’u’llah’s concept of a world order — Baha’i laws apply only to Baha’is. Accepting the Baha’i Faith is entirely voluntary – Baha’u’llah forbids any form of coercion, compunction or proselytizing. Unlike some religions, each Baha’i has complete freedom to withdraw from the Faith, as well. When Baha’u’llah laid out the spiritual laws and ordinances Baha’is should endeavor to follow, he wrote that they are binding only on the Baha’is. In other words, Baha’i law applies to those who have freely, and without coercion of any type, accepted Baha’u’llah’s message and become Baha’is. Baha’is have no interest in imposing Baha’i views, ordinances or laws on others:
It is not our purpose to impose Baha’i teachings upon others by persuading the powers that be to enact laws enforcing Baha’i principles, nor to join movements which have such legislation as their aim. – The Universal House of Justice, 21 June 1968.
Equally importantly, the Baha’i Faith encourages the independent investigation of truth, supports free thought and upholds the right of every person to believe as they see fit:
Just as in the world of politics there is need for free thought, likewise in the world of religion there should be the right of unrestricted individual belief. Consider what a vast difference exists between modern democracy and the old forms of despotism. Under an autocratic government the opinions of men are not free, and development is stifled, whereas in democracy, because thought and speech are not restricted, the greatest progress is witnessed. It is likewise true in the world of religion. When freedom of conscience, liberty of thought and right of speech prevail — that is to say, when every man according to his own idealization may give expression to his beliefs — development and growth are inevitable. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 197.
This new way of looking at faith – as the free exercise of each person’s conscience and consciousness – differs drastically from many of the old and ossified religious traditions. Baha’is see no differences between us and them. To a Baha’i, there are no insiders and outsiders, no saved or damned, no clean and unclean, no believer and apostate, no righteous and infidel, no Other:
A fundamental teaching of Baha’u’llah is the oneness of the world of humanity. Addressing mankind, He says, “Ye are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch.” By this it is meant that the world of humanity is like a tree, the nations or peoples are the different limbs or branches of that tree, and the individual human creatures are as the fruits and blossoms thereof. In this way Baha’u’llah expressed the oneness of humankind, whereas in all religious teachings of the past the human world has been represented as divided into two parts: one known as the people of the Book of God, or the pure tree, and the other the people of infidelity and error, or the evil tree. The former were considered as belonging to the faithful, and the others to the hosts of the irreligious and infidel — one part of humanity the recipients of divine mercy, and the other the object of the wrath of their Creator. Baha’u’llah removed this by proclaiming the oneness of the world of humanity, and this principle is specialized in His teachings, for He has submerged all mankind in the sea of divine generosity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 454.