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How Society Can Move From the Material to the Spiritual

Mike Solomon | Aug 23, 2020

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

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Mike Solomon | Aug 23, 2020

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

I think we can safely say that the year 2020, with its reference to perfect vision, will always be recognized as a turning point in the life of the world — and the United States.  

Whatever context the accident of birth has placed each one of us in, the universality of our biological and ethical vulnerabilities finds us all in a crucial moment in humanity’s history. Unlike even the cataclysmic days of the past when great empires tumbled and fell, in this day, the whole earth shakes with the vibration of its burden, so great is the potential of this age for unprecedented change.

In his “Most Holy Book” written in 1873, Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, described the effect his revelation would have upon the world:

The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.

For followers of Baha’u’llah, the long-expected dawn of the bright fate of humanity, promised all by religions and cosmologies and characterized by “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” has its source in Baha’u’llah’s appearance. The forces released by the Baha’i revelation can be characterized as unrivaled because they invest our era with potentials incomparable with anything in the past.  

Certainly, we see this energy operating now in the stirring of the children of the colonialists.  Finally awakened to the realization that a significant part of their ancestors’ legacy is fraught with oppressive values, ashamed by the long and horrific dehumanization of “other” human beings, they are finally attempting to come to terms with the values they inherited and which have privileged them. Even if their “woke-ness” is only initial and has not yet grown deep, the difference now, with the bones of the old value system laid bare, has made its darkest secrets simply impossible to ignore. This generation has finally obtained enough perspective and insight that they easily see many of civilization’s moral flaws. 

The information released in this age of light has drawn aside the veil. 

Science, education, and more diversified historical research paints a picture far different than what has been portrayed by the history written by the status quo. Modern journalism has pursued and often been on the frontlines of uncovering the world’s broader truths. Of course, the veil has been lifted because of technology as well, through the images from cell phone cameras taken by the people of the world. From Minneapolis to Hong Kong, from LA to Cairo to Portland, the transparency and instantaneous worldwide transmission of the real visual documentation of oppression has exposed reality, uncensored and unedited. Ironically, even the apparent ascendency of the oppressor has uncovered his real intent, as arrogant status quo leaders strut to show off their once hidden designs because they firmly feel they have conquered so completely.

With all this exposure, we really have very little option now of remaining unaware of the faults of any culture involved in oppression. From the corruption of the politicians where personal gain trumps stewardship for the common good, to systemic racism guarded by police forces that almost daily commit horrendous brutalities upon a section of the citizenry to send a message for them to “accept their place,” the people of the world watch in horror as the United States falls to the lowest and vilest of ambitions. Nor can anyone hide from understanding that the environment is unraveling on both macro and microcosmic levels. The coronavirus is proof enough of that, as are the constant fires and the steadily rising waters. Indeed, there are a host of other uncoverings, of the failures of the old values, and as the song says, “We’ve only just begun.”

This generation is smart enough to know that change has to come. There is no way to keep on being so-called “normal,” knowing what they know already and seeing what they have seen. This generation may indeed be just at the beginning of taking serious action with social justice, but they are surely at the end of abiding by, endorsing, or willingly participating in an agenda that has its roots in the colonialist mindset.  Of course, it will take time. By saying this now is not to voice that same old thinly disguised apathy that characterized the arousal of sympathies in the past, but rather to recognize, with sober appraisal, just how deeply embedded colonialist values are in the fabric of America and how much work it takes to expurgate them.

Most significantly, we have finally realized that an unmitigated and exclusively materialist cosmology (which is the true god of the colonialist) is not everything, after all.  As much as it promised a kind of material heaven on earth, it did not deliver. Without a moderating counterweight, unbridled materialism has become as much an evil, as all the insufficiencies it proposed to remedy.  Indeed, materialism has actually become the major cause of the problems the world faces today.  

In his “Prayer for America,” Abdu’l Baha asked “O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees …”

The analysis of the core problem is right there in the words — we must have a spiritual and moral aspect to our lives, both as individuals and as a society, to act as a counterbalance to materialist values. 

This materialism, the children of the colonialists now know, created the institution of slavery and has continued it through to today in increasingly disingenuous ways. That slavery, whether overt or covert, exploits labor done by the poor for the benefit of the very rich. This materialism devised the dehumanization method, through which colonialism felt justified in taking lands belonging to the Indigenous peoples it termed “savages.” This materialism even denigrated half of its own tribe — women — to the status of an object of pleasure and/or a producer of children, keeping them from having equal rights and most tellingly equal pay, which continues to this very day. The examples of materialism’s desecrations are endless. If you want to study them, simply follow the money.  

True morality, on the other hand, feeds from the stream of love that flows between humanity and the Creator. This love must be resurrected if we are to survive and progress on this planet.  The revelation of Baha’u’llah offers humanity an ethic suited to the present day, as Baha’u’llah’s Faith is very recent, and his teachings are applicable to the phenomena of our time. In his book, “The Tabernacle of Unity,” he explicitly emphasized this principle:

Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

Even divine revelation itself, according to Baha’u’llah, is progressive and not static. 

Coming from a place of understanding the myriad levels of the oneness that underpins reality, and the will of the Creator to provide progressive teaching for humanity to attain and maintain balance as we evolve, one finds a way in both heart and mind to embrace all things, so that being of service, of acting through love towards everything and everyone becomes life’s overriding objective. With this love, which is the essence of Baha’i spirituality, overcoming things like the dark legacies of the past, having the courage for the self-examination it takes to overcome one’s own unexamined attitudes, rather than being a depressing task, becomes a pathway to joy. 
On that pathway, we’re enabled to throw off the burdens of guilt, shame, fear, self-hatred, and regain dignity and worthiness. Basing our morality on spirituality, we can permanently make the changes needed in ourselves, in our kind, and thus in our world. Baha’u’llah wrote this so simply: “True peace and tranquility will only be realized when every soul will have become the well-wisher of all mankind.”

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