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Obviously and logically, every individual human being needs assistance in learning – but if we consider humankind collectively, the logic and wisdom of the need for help is no less pressing.
For the sake of inquiry, let us think of humanity as students here in classroom Earth, and let us presume that most of us are at the same level of enlightenment, or lack of it. By analogy, we can quickly realize that we will become no more educated than the brightest among us – and unless this person is a good teacher, we will never become even that bright. Furthermore, by the law of entropy, all the students of this teacher will become less astute by degrees, so that over the course of time, the collective body politic will gradually sink lower and lower, eventually descending to the level of brutes.
This observation and conclusion can be upheld with a vast, intricate, and well-articulated analysis, but for our purposes, we need only acknowledge that the logical conclusion is inescapable. Without infusions of guidance from outside the physically closed system that is planet Earth, humankind would never have emerged from its rudimentary existence in caves. In fact, according to the law of entropy, without the infusion of outside information and guidance, the classroom of the children of men would soon degenerate into ineptitude.
Since the reverse of this has taken place, and we have as a global community witnessed the remarkable ascent of humankind in terms of the growth and sophistication of our civilizations, our technological and scientific capacities, and our concepts of justice and global polity, it is only logical to conclude that there must have been in our history some external assistance in the form of teachers who possessed “otherworldly” knowledge – knowledge acquired from outside the confines of classroom Earth. These universal educators, the Baha'i teachings affirm, come to us as a result of divine revelation:
… the world of existence stands in utmost need of an educator, and … its education must be achieved through a celestial power. There is no doubt that this celestial power is divine revelation, and that the world must be educated through this power which transcends human power.
Of course, we could alternatively theorize that each increment of human development or vast advance in human knowledge came about by chance or by trial and error or by the innovation of unusually intelligent individuals.
Perhaps we saw fire happen with a lightning strike, so we fooled around with stuff until we could create fire ourselves by striking flint, rubbing sticks, or stealing fire from a burning brush after a lightning strike – a somewhat more haphazard system. The discoveries by individuals that mark the major advances in physics and other sciences through the ages might seem to confirm this theory – ingenious minds started asking questions about how things work or how to make things work, and incrementally we advanced our understanding of reality.
The problem with this theory is that somebody had to raise these people and prime these minds. Someone taught them the foundational studies that enabled them to transform their potential for innovation and creativity into systematic thinking. Or, to state the overall problem in terms of established physical laws, a system cannot progress beyond the bounds of the energy that is infused into it. What is more, the source of that energy must be greater than the recipient of that energy.
So if we could view human progress from its beginnings, we would realize that no progress could have been made without some initial infusion of instruction and guidance. Learning as an active creative and organic force cannot be set in motion without some external source of energy or stimulation.
Another aspect of this need for external prompting and guidance is that a single infusion of instruction is not sufficient. Again, physical law dictates that over time this single input of inspiration and energy will inevitably become diffused and dissipate. This observation holds true most especially for knowledge of metaphysical laws.
For while we observe in ancient Indigenous cultures the attempt to account for metaphysics in terms of nature-based beliefs that strive to explain the unexplainable, we soon observe a pantheon of divine forces existing throughout multiple Indigenous cultures, all with some similar systematic order. We further observe similar mythical and mystical concepts among diverse cultures that defies chance. In most cases, these similar concepts emerged at a time when communication was not possible between people on opposite sides of the globe.
For example, we need only compare the complex mythology of ancient Greece to the similarly complex Teutonic mythologies of the Germanic peoples to realize that the parallels in overall perspective and the systematic particularization of the function of deities, while based in nature, did not merely emerge spontaneously from observing nature. Some individual at some point must have introduced this abiding concept of nature as emulating metaphysical powers and forces.
However, we can also observe over time how some of the more widespread tribal beliefs seem to degenerate into cruel and, to our thinking, “unreligious” or “sacrilegious” acts of cannibalism or other forms of human sacrifice. In effect, what may have been initially noble attempts at understanding metaphysical concepts, especially as they apply to human attributes such as nobility, loyalty, truthfulness, and kindness, became distorted, confused, or appropriated for use by those who desired to acquire power for perverse reasons of personal status and self-aggrandizement.
We can, with a degree of certainty, suppose that this is the pattern that these ancient religions followed, just as this same pattern is evident in the development of the more recent religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For though Paul in his second letter to Timothy states that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (6:10), money in and of itself has value only inasmuch as it provides power. Therefore we could reframe the axiom as it relates generally to human interaction, to state that the love of power is the source of all evil.
This revised axiom becomes most evident when religions and religious institutions founded for the explicit purpose of beatifying human behavior, especially as that behavior relates to social interaction, become politicized to uphold the desire for power and control on the part of an individual or some power-seeking segment of leaders within a religion.
We could obviously spend a great deal of time tracking this paradigm of infighting that crops up over time in the course of most religious history. Many volumes have been devoted to examining this process. This ostensibly “natural” course of religion is the central theme in Richard Dawkins’ best selling book The God Delusion. Dawkins argues that society would have been better off without religion or belief in God, since the passionate emotions and chauvinism associated with religious belief have been, and yet remain, the cause of so much strife, bloodshed, and inhumanity. A television documentary based on Dawkins’ book takes its title “The Root of all Evil?” from Paul’s axiom regarding the love of money, or power, as the source of discord and enmity among the peoples of the world.
The Baha'i teachings view this cross-cultural historical pattern – the emergence of religion through divine revelation – in a similar but more nuanced way, expressed by Abdu’l-Baha in this brief, elegant passage from his writings: “… the religion of God is one, and it is the educator of humankind, but still, it needs must be made new.”
In the next essay in this series, we’ll examine the powerful ramifications of that profound statement.