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Most of us live in materialistic nations today, so visualizing a more spiritualized state of society can seem difficult. But just for a minute, try to visualize a more loving, caring and kindness-based culture without war, oppression or abject poverty.
That vision, of a peaceful global civilization that protects and empowers its citizens, shows us why spiritual and material progress belong together:
5. A spiritually developed society channels its creativity into constructive rather than destructive directions.
[Read the first reason why Spiritual and Material Progress Must Go Together]
If society gears its energies towards hate not love, and greed not contentment, technology will advance most quickly in extremely destructive fields. Prior to World War I, Abdu’l-Baha warned against the use of rapidly-advancing war technologies and weapons of mass destruction. His point–gruesomely illustrated by the bloodiness of the war that ensued—remains true today:
…shouldst thou turn thine eye to the discovery of destructive and infernal machines, to the development of forces of demolition and the invention of fiery implements, which uproot the tree of life, it would become evident and manifest unto thee that civilization is conjoined with barbarism. Progress and barbarism go hand in hand, unless material civilization be confirmed by Divine Guidance, by the revelations of the All-Merciful and by godly virtues, and be reinforced by spiritual conduct, by the ideals of the Kingdom and by the outpourings of the Realm of Might.
Consider now, that the most advanced and civilized countries of the world have been turned into arsenals of explosives, that the continents of the globe have been transformed into huge camps and battlefields, that the peoples of the world have formed themselves into armed nations, and that the governments of the world are vying with each other as to who will first step into the field of carnage and bloodshed, thus subjecting mankind to the utmost degree of affliction. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 284.
Today, the world has a glut of nuclear weapons. Drones make it possible for a military to strike someone without placing any of their soldiers in harm’s way. Emerging war technology will soon make possible the deployment of robotic soldiers to the battlefield.
The global community really has no assurances that these weapons will not enable obscene atrocities and massive crimes against humanity in the future. The fact that rulers and generals have always depended on human soldiers and law enforcement officers, with hearts capable of feeling love and compassion, has always acted to limit somewhat the destructiveness of their decisions. To place an inhuman army at the disposal of a tiny number of human operators controlling the situation from a comfortable distance greatly increases the danger associated with future conflicts. And this is to say nothing of the continued prevalence of nuclear weapons.
A century ago, as the First World War broke out, generals from every army were caught off guard by how destructive their new weapons had made war. The misery of trench warfare and the use of poison gas caused casualties that outnumbered anything Europe had ever seen. For now, the world has become more peaceful. Nonetheless, should the nations of the earth once again dedicate their full industrial strength to the devastation of their enemies, the human catastrophe could be unparalleled.
That destructive capacity means that joining spiritual civilization to material civilization, as two wings to one bird, does not constitute a luxury. Instead of just a nice idea that might help us lead more fulfilling lives, the union of the spiritual and material has become imperative. As Abdu’l-Baha makes clear, we face a matter of survival, the difference between civilization and technologically-advanced barbarism.
The Baha’i teachings say that material civilization must be combined, not just with spirituality, but with God’s guidance for the modern age. Baha’u’llah’s writings outline elements of a practical path that individuals, communities, and global society as a whole can walk in unity, justice, and peace. Abdu’l-Baha then explains how the Baha’i teachings has already formed an international community of people from diverse racial and religious that relate to each other and with the wider society in joy and harmony. Referring to this example, he extols the power of Baha’u’llah’s message.
Can any power withstand the penetrative influence of the Word of God? Nay, by God! The proof is clear and the evidence is complete! If anyone looketh with the eyes of justice he shall be struck with wonder and amazement and will testify that all the peoples, sects and races of the world should be glad, content and grateful for the teachings and admonitions of Baha’u’llah. For these divine injunctions tame every ferocious beast, transform the creeping insect into a soaring bird, cause human souls to become angels of the Kingdom, and make the human world a focus for the qualities of mercy. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 293.
Baha’u’llah’s teachings have the power to transform us inside and out, as individuals and as a society. The advancement of material civilization has brought enormous knowledge, wealth and power but also enormous danger. Through the influence of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, humanity has the ability to surpass them and step into an era of undreamt-of possibility.