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All the Prophets of God came for the education of humanity in order that the immature souls might become mature and to establish love and amity among mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in Mahmud’s Diary, p. 51.

Individual human beings inevitably grow and develop—does humanity, too?

Like a child that gradually becomes a full-grown adult, does our entire species also collectively evolve and mature?

The Baha’i teachings answer a resounding yes to those profound questions:

All created things have their degree or stage of maturity. The period of maturity in the life of a tree is the time of its fruit-bearing… The animal attains a stage of full growth and completeness, and in the human kingdom man reaches his maturity when the light of his intelligence attains its greatest power and development… Similarly there are periods and stages in the collective life of humanity. At one time it was passing through its stage of childhood, at another its period of youth, but now it has entered its long-predicted phase of maturity, the evidences of which are everywhere apparent… That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race can neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day, this period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities. New bounties, perfect bestowals, are awaiting and already descending upon him. The gifts and blessings of the period of youth, although timely and sufficient during the adolescence of mankind, are now incapable of meeting the requirements of its maturity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 9.

Women-on-smart-phonesCertainly no one could dispute that fact that we’ve made progress as a species in a strictly material sense. Without question, the human condition has significantly advanced. We once lived in caves, and now our dwellings have definitely improved. We once could travel only on foot, and now our transportation has vastly improved. We once could only communicate the distance a voice could travel, and now our communication has immeasurably improved. Statistically, as a species, we live longer, healthier and safer lives than ever before. Technology, medicine, education, public health and life expectancy have all made great leaps forward, especially during the last 150 years.

So the question becomes—do we also mature spiritually? Can humanity, in a collective sense, grow and develop as in individual does, from infancy through childhood and adolescence to adulthood?

When a suckling babe has passed through the material grades and has attained physical growth and development, the body reaches the grade of maturity and attains capacity for the manifestation of ideal perfections and intellectual virtues. Then the signs of the endowment of perception, intelligence and knowledge, and the spiritual forces appear.

Likewise in the general world, when mankind accomplished physical development, travelled through the grades of civilization and attained the human wonders, virtues and endowments in their most consummate form, it attained capacity for the appearance and extension of the spiritual divine perfections and obtained worthiness for hearing the divine summons. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 66.

The Baha’i teachings clearly say that we mature as a species in the same way we mature as individuals.

If you start thinking about humanity that way, it can answer a number of important questions and make sense of a whole host of historical facts and trends. We’ve progressed spiritually in a wide variety of ways since human beings began to band together in their earliest tribal societies. We’ve gone from simple idol-worship to a more nuanced, sophisticated and increasingly unified view of our spiritual realities. We’ve built cultures and civilizations that have brought increasing numbers of diverse peoples together harmoniously. We’ve generally improved our behavior toward one another, with lots of evidence that our collective levels of violence and inhumanity have decreased over time. Worldwide Faiths have emerged, and despite their lapses into conflict and contention, have generally had a positive, peaceful impact on the bulk of their followers.

The Baha’i teachings clearly say that this overall spiritual growth across the arc of history has its roots in the progressive revelation of religion:

The world of humanity shall become the manifestation of the lights of Divinity, and the bestowals of God shall surround all. From the standpoints of both material and spiritual civilization extraordinary progress and development will be witnessed. In this present cycle there will be an evolution in civilization unparalleled in the history of the world. The world of humanity has, heretofore, been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reaches its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened intellectual faculties so that in one year of this ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress, and that power of accomplishment whereof each individual human reality is the depository of God — that outworking Universal Spirit — like the intellectual faculty, will reveal itself in infinite degrees of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 37.

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