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The Baha’i teachings say that just as the individual purpose of life means knowing and loving God, for human society as a whole the purpose of life means promoting an ever-advancing human civilization.
But how can we, mere individuals without any say or sway in the way the world works, help advance civilization? How can one person, without position or power, even attempt to change the world in any real sense?
From a Baha’i perspective, that daunting task requires unity. We can join with others in a like-minded worldwide quest to develop love, unity and cooperation across the man-made boundaries of race, religion and national borders. That kind of cross-cultural and cross-border solidarity, the Baha’i experience has clearly shown, can create a global movement, a force for peace and unity unparalleled in human history:
Praise be to God, today the splendour of the Word of God hath illumined every horizon, and from all sects, races, tribes, nations, and communities souls have come together in the light of the Word, assembled, united and agreed in perfect harmony. Oh! What a great number of meetings are held adorned with souls from various races and diverse sects! Anyone attending these will be struck with amazement, and might suppose that these souls are all of one land, one nationality, one community, one thought, one belief and one opinion; whereas, in fact, one is an American, the other an African, one cometh from Asia and another from Europe, one is a native of India, another is from Turkestan, one is an Arab, another a Tajik, another a Persian and yet another a Greek. Notwithstanding such diversity they associate in perfect harmony and unity, love and freedom; they have one voice, one thought and one purpose. Verily, this is from the penetrative power of the Word of God! If all the forces of the universe were to combine they would not be able thus to gather a single assemblage so imbued with the sentiments of love, affection, attraction and enkindlement as to unite the members of different races and to raise up from the heart of the world a voice that shall dispel war and strife, uproot dissension and disputation, usher in the era of universal peace and establish unity and concord amongst men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
Baha’is understand this process from a unique perspective. Each new prophet and messenger brings new teachings, and it is upon these teachings that civilization is ultimately founded. Those messengers establish new beliefs and attitudes about what is possible, and create new values and norms of behavior appropriate to the times. These raise the level of religious, scientific and cultural understanding from one age to the next. When that new spiritual springtime comes, the Baha’i teachings say, it recreates us both individually and collectively, calling forth the creative energies necessary to reshape society and bring about an ever-advancing civilization:
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. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
That explains why the age in which we live is witnessing a profound change in the attitudes it holds, the values it shares, and the way it does things. Baha’u’llah wrote that this ongoing process of rolling up the old world order and laying out a new one proceeds from the “vibrating influence” of a fresh spiritual revelation:
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. – Ibid.
Our times are turbulent because, whereas in the past change came about slowly, the current accelerating rate of change in our world has now become directly visible within our own lifetimes. The way we appraise civilization is also changing. We are now beginning to recognize that civilization is comprised of love, spiritual values and ethical standards as well as material culture and technological achievement:
Know thou of a certainty that love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the divers elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and nation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
For civilization to become progressive and sustaining, it must be self-renewing. Its institutions must incorporate the ability to adapt to the changing challenges of the times. The institutions of the Baha’i Faith reflect this facility, and Baha’is offer them to the world as a possible model for social development.