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Civilization: Can Human Society Evolve, or Are We Stuck Here?

David Liebman | Dec 11, 2021

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Liebman | Dec 11, 2021

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Our current civilization represents a specific point in time and space in the long trajectory of the development of collective human life on the planet – so what’s the next step for us?

Can we evolve as a society, or are we stuck here?

For millennia, human society has traced a long arc starting back in the dim recesses of prehistory. As far as we know, humans first organized as hunter-gatherer tribes. Then those tribal units evolved further, eventually coalescing into villages, city-states, and kingdoms. Nationhood followed, and now, the Baha’i teachings tell us, even that stage of human civilization is slowly evolving, gradually giving way to our final and most-evolved level of social organization possible on this planet – a global commonwealth and world civilization.

RELATED: How Society Can Move From the Material to the Spiritual

If we reflect on the migration of our remote ancestors from southern Africa into central Asia and then dispersing across the planet, organizing into various and diverse pockets of social communities, with their unique cultures and languages, isn’t it remarkable that these societies did not remain static and separate, but continually evolved, developed more complex civilizations, and grew increasingly interconnected, to the extent that we now find ourselves a truly interdependent global community? 

We must ask how we got here, because the answer to that question provides the vison that will allow us to move forward to a more secure, peaceful, and prosperous future. 

What Force Moves Us Forward?

Change requires a power to effect that change, so what is the compelling power that has driven this constant evolutionary change, this development throughout our long collective history? Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.

So, quite simply, Baha’is believe that God’s purpose in creating humanity requires us to progress and evolve, as an ever-advancing civilization, under the influence of His commanding sovereignty. The best qualities of this progressive civilization, the Baha’i teachings say, include dignity, forbearance, mercy, peace, compassion, and loving-kindness to all humanity.

The Baha’i writings further explain that the messengers and manifestations of God, His prophets and holy ones, mediate between His Will and His creation, and these messengers release into the world the creative power needed to propel human civilization forward and transform both the individual and society. The Baha’i writings say:

… when the holy Manifestation of God, Who is the Sun of the world of creation, casts His splendour upon the world of hearts, minds, and spirits, a spiritual springtime is ushered in and a new life is unveiled. The power of the matchless springtide appears and its marvellous gifts are beheld. Thus you observe that, with the advent of each of the Manifestations of God, astonishing progress was attained in the realm of human minds, thoughts, and spirits. Consider, for example, the progress that has been achieved in this divine age in the world of minds and thoughts — and this is only the beginning of the dawn! Erelong you will witness how these renewed bounties and heavenly teachings have flooded this darksome world with their light and transformed this sorrow-laden realm into the all-highest Paradise.

We humans are an important part of God’s creative plan, unfolding throughout this vast universe and on this tiny planet. Released into our world through the messengers of God, these new revelations provide the necessary energy that relentlessly drives onward the evolutionary life of human society.

We Are Active Agents of Our Destiny

If we understand this fundamental creative principle, then we know that God created us to be active agents and participants in an ever-advancing civilization. All human beings function as the active protagonists in the unfolding plan of God. Art, literature, architecture, science, industry, education – every creative human activity expresses this fundamental realty.

At such a precarious time in our collective history, when we face mortal damage to the Earth and to ourselves, we must attempt to understand this fundamental purpose of our creation. 

That understanding provides the necessary vision of how to move forward with justice and with healing. At this critical turning point, when we avail ourselves of the power of Baha’u’llah’s revelation to transform both ourselves and in turn our society, we can continue to build an ever-advancing civilization. This means we must change if we want the world to change.

How to Build a Spiritual Civilization

We now have what we need to build a spiritual civilization all across the world. That civilization involves the illumination of the human reality with divine virtues, which in turn is expressed externally and forms a just, peaceful, and unified society. In Galatians, 5:22-23 these are described as “fruits of the spirit:” “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” 

We already know how to build an advanced material civilization – but that only creates a dead body without life. Its fruit is the expression of humanity’s lower nature, absent the living spirit of God’s teachings or their influence. Material civilization without an accompanying spiritual light tends to produce conflict, injustice, greed, self-interest, poverty, war, and ultimately great suffering. 

RELATED: Can Religion be a Progressive Force in Society?

Spiritual civilization, on the other hand, represents a reality that emanates from God through His messengers, as the Baha’i teachings point out: “… all the prophets have striven to make love manifest in the hearts of men.” 

This spirit – flowing from God to humanity, through the prophets of the past and now, at this time, through the latest of those messengers, Baha’u’llah – animates and shapes a culture that has the power to produce unity, cooperation, peace and security. It empowers scientific and artistic endeavor, causes the love of humanity to manifest itself, creates self-discipline, and enjoins on all the pursuit of knowledge. It raises service to humanity as the highest honor for an individual. It will, in time, create a unified, secure and prosperous civilization, for as the Baha’i writings say, “unity is the expression of the loving power of God, and reflects the reality of divinity.” 

The Baha’i teachings point out the world’s most pressing need now – building a spiritual civilization. Like two wings of a bird, both material and spiritual are necessary for humanity to progress. This paves the path forward out of this waste of suffering, darkness, death, and the destruction of our world, providing the essential elements necessary for a peaceful and secure future for ourselves, our children, for all humanity. In his book The World Order of Baha’u’llah, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, characterized the impact of this new revelation not just as another religious revival, but as calling us all to “the furthermost limits in the organization of human society:”

The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man’s collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture – all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Baha’i Era – should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.

Baha’is everywhere invite all of humanity to join us in building this new spiritual civilization.

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