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What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless.
The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 16.
In trying to follow Abdu’l-Baha’s altruistic example of service to humanity, the global Baha’i community has begun learn how to effectively engage in social action—but from a completely new perspective.
Clearly, Baha’i-inspired social action initiatives can best distinguish themselves by their Baha’i-inspired nature—and not simply become one more among the many worthy and highly effective charities that already exist in the world. That’s because social action, in a Baha’i context, deliberately attempts to apply Baha’i principles—both material and spiritual—to a social problem. Its application requires an informed understanding of the social issue, as well as an approach mindful of the spiritual solutions to human problems rooted in the Baha’i teachings:
Spread far and wide the precepts and counsels of the loving Lord, so that this world will change into another world, and this darksome earth will be flooded with light, and the dead body of mankind will arise and live… – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 2.
Irrespective of its scope and scale, all social action seeks to apply the teachings and principles of the Faith to improve some aspect of the social or economic life of a population, however modestly. Such endeavours are distinguished, then, by their stated purpose to promote the material well-being of the population, in addition to its spiritual welfare. – The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2010, p. 9.
Baha’is have a unique gift to contribute to humanity—the divine teachings of Baha’u’llah, designed to alleviate the ills afflicting humanity today. Baha’is believe that these teachings constitute the remedy for humanity’s deepest difficulties:
The world of man is sick, and that competent Physician knoweth the cure, arising as He doth with teachings, counsels and admonishments that are the remedy for every pain, the healing balm to every wound. It is certain that the wise physician can diagnose his patient’s needs at any season, and apply the cure. Wherefore, relate thou the Teachings of [Baha’u’llah] to the urgent needs of this present day, and thou wilt see that they provide an instant remedy for the ailing body of the world. Indeed, they are the elixir that bringeth eternal health. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 59.
But even though Baha’is can draw on the revelation of Baha’u’llah, and its unique source of divine guidance for the ills of our time, we also acknowledge our minimal understanding of how to apply spiritual solutions to social problems. This new endeavor challenges everyone.
The Baha’i attitude of humility and modesty in approaching social action comes not only from our collective lack of experience and understanding about how to apply spiritual solutions to social problems, but also from the fact that Baha’is do not have a monopoly on the impact of and ideas derived from the revelation of Baha’u’llah. From the moment any of God’s great Faiths revealed itself, the world was impacted and the order of the planet was renewed. New ideas were diffused and old ideas became questioned. All of those on Earth were affected, whether they realized it or not.
We stand now at the dawn of a new revelation, Baha’u’llah has announced:
I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness…. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 295.
The influence of the revelation of Baha’u’llah on the thoughts and ideas of people throughout the world is palpable. The oneness of humanity, the equality of the sexes, the agreement of science and religion, global environmental action and universal peace have all pervaded the consciousness of humanity during the past century and a half since Baha’u’llah taught those principles.
All over the world, it’s increasingly clear that the time has come for the application of the message of Baha’u’llah, even by those who are unaware of its source. For example, people may not know why most of humanity has now rejected the superiority of one race over another, but they embrace the principle regardless. People may not know why the world has seemed to shrink into a neighborhood, but the reality of our growing oneness as human beings increasingly seems inevitable. People may not know why we now find violence against women problematic, when in earlier times it was the norm, but we still renounce it and combat it. Baha’i concepts and principles have radiated throughout humanity, and that fact means the power of the Baha’i revelation goes far beyond the inadequacies of our efforts or expertise as a Baha’i community.
Next: Using Humility to Help Others