Hope has become a rare commodity in today’s world. Everything seems to be going wrong, and the forces of disintegration are accelerating.
We may wonder what will come first: a financial collapse, a climate catastrophe, a global pandemic, a third world war, or some equally disastrous outcome for a material civilization out of control? The youth of the world in particular face dismal prospects.
Yet there are also forces of integration at work; people making a difference and living lives of meaning. If there were more of them, that might help us to avoid the worst and turn the corner towards a brighter tomorrow.
In my professional work as an environmental scientist, I have spent over half a century researching and spreading depressing news about the environmental crises on the horizon or already happening. So I asked myself what could I do to compensate and give some hope for the future? Why did I succeed in staying hopeful and motivated despite so much evidence to the contrary?
Surprising as it may seem for a natural scientist, especially one specializing in complex ecosystems like coral reefs now threatened with disappearance, the answer for me was my perspective as a member of the Baha’i Faith, founded in the 19th century by the Bab and Baha’u’llah, and anticipating the challenges we now face:
Alike in the claims unequivocally asserted by its author and the general character of the growth of the Baha’i community in every continent of the globe, [the Baha’i Faith] can be regarded in no other light than a world religion, destined to evolve in the course of time into a world-embracing commonwealth, whose advent must signalize the Golden Age of mankind, the age in which the unity of the human race will have been unassailably established, its maturity attained, and its glorious destiny unfolded through the birth and efflorescence of a world-encompassing civilization.
… this Faith is now increasingly demonstrating its right to be recognized, not as one more religious system superimposed on the conflicting creeds which for so many generations have divided mankind and darkened its fortunes, but rather as a restatement of the eternal verities underlying all the religions of the past, as a unifying force instilling into the adherents of these religions a new spiritual vigor, infusing them with a new hope and love for mankind, firing them with a new vision of fundamental unity of their religious doctrines, and unfolding to their eyes the glorious destiny that awaits the human race.
The fundamental principle enunciated by Baha’u’llah, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that Religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society. – Shoghi Effendi, Summary Statement – 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine.
As a scientist, I could see that science by itself did not have all the answers to the human condition, that ethical values and motivation had other roots, not contrary to science and reason, but complementary to them, creating a coherent whole. I then asked myself how could I capture my own journey to hope, in a way that might make it accessible to others, particularly those of a rational, skeptical mindset?
My new book—In Pursuit of Hope, A Guide for the Seeker—is the result. I hope this series of essays, adapted from the book for BahaiTeachings.org, will stimulate your thinking and open your heart to the better world that is possible and to your own role in building it:
This will indeed be the fitting climax of that process of integration which, starting with the family, the smallest unit in the scale of human organization, must, after having called successively into being the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, continue to operate until it culminates in the unification of the whole world, the final object and the crowning glory of human evolution on this planet. It is this stage which humanity, willingly or unwillingly, is resistlessly approaching. It is for this stage that this vast, this fiery ordeal which humanity is experiencing is mysteriously paving the way. – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, pp. 117-118.
Arthur Lyon Dahl’s new book In Pursuit of Hope, A Guide for the Seeker, published by George Ronald Books, is available here.