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What Being Radical Really Means

Richard Meier | Jun 15, 2022

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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Richard Meier | Jun 15, 2022

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

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been embraced as a symbol of peace and Malcolm X has been criticized as a symbol of disruption. However, both men believed in and expressed truly courageous, radical ideas.

Dr. King called for “a true revolution in values, for justice to roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Malcolm X said: “A new world order is in the making and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it.”

Malcolm X

Both Malcolm and Martin issued passionate calls for thorough, far-reaching, and radical change in human society. But today the call for radical change seems even more urgent than it was in Malcolm and Martin’s time.

As both men knew, to effect real progress we must address the systemic flaws at play, and, more importantly, we must identify the underlying spiritual issues and apply them. Heretofore, systemic flaws sidelined many calls for change, undermined transformation when it began to happen, and caused changes in policy to carry with them the same means of exclusion as before.

In order to find productive ways of doing something about systemic flaws, we must seek reformation in the kingdom of the human spirit. Not only must we make drastic shifts in the way society functions, we also need fundamental shifts in the way spirituality is understood and applied.

RELATED: Dr. King Highlights Major Black Philosophers

The Baha’i teachings address these deep issues directly – and radically. Abdu’l-Baha warned of the need for spiritual transformation in a speech he gave in 1911: 

If spirituality be not renewed, what fruits come from mere physical reformation? For instance, the body of man may improve, the quality of bone and sinew may advance, the hand may develop, other limbs and members may increase in excellence, but if the mind fails to develop, of what use is the rest? There must be reformation in the kingdom of the human spirit; otherwise, no result will be attained from betterment of the mere physical structure.

Calling for radical change requires understanding the way our political, economic, cultural, and social order functions – and then directing our efforts towards profound and lasting change with the foundation of spiritual values to guide us and a vision of future possibility to inspire us. Abdu’l-Baha asserted:

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.

Martin Luther King Jr

When we collectively develop a sense of generosity, honesty, and a desire for justice it will make it possible for those with disproportionate amounts of sociopolitical power to find creative responses to the gruesome injustices inflicted upon others. When we apply a spiritual mindset towards establishing justice, unity, and wellness, we can operate beyond the artificial constraints of the current political atmosphere and delve into the deeper parts of who we truly are. By using spiritual tools and our intellect we will find ways to better the world around us. Abdu’l-Baha advised that we:

Cheer every heart with the utmost loving-kindness. If a soul is seeking to quarrel, ask ye for reconciliation; if he blame you, praise him; if he becomes a thorn, change into roses and hyacinths. Perchance, through such deeds and words, this darkened world will become illuminated, bloodshed be annihilated and love will hoist the tent of unity upon the apex of the world. 

RELATED: Destigmatizing the Word “Radical”

Our power to effect change is actualized by applying and/or incorporating a spiritual principle. We are sustained and inspired by the vision of the ultimate result of our actions, predicted by Baha’u’llah, “Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” 

After a time,” he has written, “all the governments on earth will change. Oppression will envelop the world. And following a universal convulsion, the sun of justice will rise from the horizon of the unseen realm.” 

The whole earth,” Baha’u’llah also stated, “is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings.” 

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, explained

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hallmark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.

These audacious goals, Baha’is believe, will inevitably be realized, once we recognize and act on our common humanity. Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

All nations and kindred will become a single nation. Religious and sectarian antagonism, the hostility of races and peoples, and differences among nations, will be eliminated. All men will adhere to one religion, will have one common faith, will be blended into one race, and become a single people. All will dwell in one common fatherland, which is the planet itself.

These visions of a future characterized by human oneness, espoused by both Malcolm and Martin, have their origins and their highest expression in the Baha’i teachings.

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  • Jun 16, 2022
    What was accomplished could not have been done without both Martin and Malcolm. I don't see any leaders of their caliber in today's world. The closest I know of is Arvol Lookinghorse, but his nonviolent leadership isn't well known.
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