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We humans have a dual nature – we can act more savagely than the most voracious predator, or we can evince a caring, compassionate aspect that goes back more than a million years.
Human violence has many causes, from individual inclinations to group, cultural, or national hatreds. Even the differences between the religions of God have been the cause of violent actions one against the other, a fact that continues to this day. Heaven forbid!
The Baha’i teachings have much to say about the abominations of war and what our response to violence should be:
… war is made for the satisfaction of men’s ambition; for the sake of worldly gain to the few, terrible misery is brought to numberless homes, breaking the hearts of hundreds of men and women!
How many widows mourn their husbands, how many stories of savage cruelty do we hear! How many little orphaned children are crying for their dead fathers, how many women are weeping for their slain sons!
There is nothing so heartbreaking and terrible as an outburst of human savagery!
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thought of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.
Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.
When soldiers of the world draw their swords to kill, soldiers of God clasp each other’s hands! So may all the savagery of man disappear by the Mercy of God, working through the pure in heart and the sincere of soul. Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 29-30.
It would be naïve today to imagine one person changing history with a greater thought of love, even at a great price – or would it? Actually, we have many examples of just that:
- The Buddha: Critical of the caste structure of Hindu society, the Buddha taught a middle path of right thinking and non-violence.
- Jesus Christ: He taught a message of love and forgiveness during a brutal period of Roman occupation. His Christian ideals would later be adopted by the Roman Empire, ensuring the spread of his philosophy and teachings all over Europe.
- Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, whose Faith teaches peace, unity and non-violence, and has spread all around the globe.
Each of these individuals and many more, some the founders of great world Faiths and others leaders of large groups of people, lived lives of peace, resilience and spiritual grace. They demonstrated, through not just their words but their actions, that human beings could transcend the tribal, religious and national loyalties that lead to hatred and violence, and instead come together in harmony. They taught that we could all live in accordance with the better angels of our nature rather than descending into violence.
But at the core of human violence lie our own human frailties and inclinations toward greed, power, control, and domination, all of which can be sublimated, the Baha’i teachings say, to higher-level modes of altruism and goodwill through the exercise of love:
The power of the Holy Spirit, enlightening man’s intelligence, has enabled him to discover means of bending many natural laws to his will. He flies through the air, floats on the sea, and even moves under the waters.
All this proves how man’s intelligence has been enabled to free him from the limitations of nature, and to solve many of her mysteries. Man, to a certain extent, has broken the chains of matter.
The Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavor to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love.
When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, color or shade of political opinion. Heaven will support you while you work in this ingathering of the scattered peoples of the world beneath the shadow of the almighty tent of unity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 38.
We don’t often talk to our friends or neighbors about the Holy Spirit and divine infinite love, but perhaps it’s time we do.
First, we must believe we are capable of being influenced by the Holy Spirit, and second, in the never-failing power of love to overcome any proclivities brought on by our animal nature toward violence.
Before that, we must believe that we have the power to change, that all human beings have the the power to change.
We must believe in the innate kindness and capacity of humanity to care for each other, not destroy each other.