So you want to change the world?
Previous generations have made a mess of it. There is hypocrisy, injustice and corruption everywhere. Some people say that this is part of human nature and cannot be changed. Many are without hope and have given up. But you are not ready to abandon the world and withdraw into your shell. You want to make a difference. But how?
This series of essays, adapted from my new book In Pursuit of Hope: A Guide for the Seeker, presents a do-it-yourself guide for the lost seeker, budding activist, or someone looking for greater meaning in life. It does not have all the answers; those, you will have to find for yourself. But it does try to assist you to ask the right questions, and it has tools that might be helpful along your journey to finding those answers.
The journey will be hard. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the problems of the world or to the challenges of life. Changing the world into a better place will take centuries, and you will not live to see the end of it. In any case, there is no “end,” only another starting point in the cycles that mark the ever-advancing journey of humanity.
But, someone has to start; so why not you?
You are not alone. Thousands of others feel the same way as you and are starting along similar journeys. You will be sure to cross paths with some of them and will maybe even join up to travel a part of the way together—and however long the duration, whatever you accomplish on this journey will not be lost, because others will come after you and pick up wherever you left off.
This is a voyage of hope—and your life can be part of it.
Life is a journey and, like any journey, you can do much to prepare for it and to make the most of it. That is what this story is about. It offers a user’s brief guide to life and what it takes to place the maximum chances on your side, so that your life will meet your highest expectations. It builds on the knowledge of science and some of the latest thinking about complex systems, but also examines fundamental questions of belief, ethics and values about why you are here and what your fundamental purpose is as a human being. Accordingly, it pivots around a profound Baha’i principle—the essential harmony of science and religion:
… the religion which does not walk hand in hand with science is itself in the darkness of superstition and ignorance.
Much of the discord and disunion of the world is created by these man-made oppositions and contradictions. If religion were in harmony with science and they walked together, much of the hatred and bitterness now bringing misery to the human race would be at an end. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 143.
This pursuit of scientific and spiritual truth places these individual challenges in the larger framework of a globalizing world experiencing multiple crises. It looks for paths to sustainability and a better future, exploring what you can do to go in that direction. It is, in a sense, a guide for how to bring greater meaning into your life.
The voyage of life is not easy. From the pain your mother suffered as you were born into the world to the inevitable decline of old age and ultimately death, the trek of your life will lead you through perilous valleys and up exalted mountains, with many opportunities to fall short or to lose your way. Some of the challenges are within you; others lie in wait along the way. At times, it may seem easiest to withdraw, to look for the easy way out, or to follow the crowd.
We live in a challenging and often frustrating age, where hope is a rare commodity. But human beings need hope to carry on. Like food to sustain a long journey, we hunger for hope to fuel our lives.
Whether you are young and just beginning on this journey, or are already somewhere along the way, the obstacles may seem impossible to overcome. Yet, this universal quest for fulfilment, although arduous, can also be exhilarating, equipping you for the next challenges along the road and offering ever-growing vistas of new potentials as you forge ahead.
In telling this tale, the aim is not to lay out a wide highway for everyone to follow, like a herd of goats or a rush of commuters, but to provide some signposts to help you find your own unique path to your destiny. In particular, at a time when world crises seem to multiply and catastrophes seem imminent and doom inevitable, it is essential to put all these problems into perspective and to recognize that they are the symptoms of a time of transition. Rather then deny their reality, you will seek to understand their role and purpose in cleansing a sick society of its ailments, preparing for a new global civilization to emerge:
The laws of former governments and civilizations are in process of revision; scientific ideas and theories are developing and advancing to meet a new range of phenomena; invention and discovery are penetrating hitherto unknown fields, revealing new wonders and hidden secrets of the material universe; industries have vastly wider scope and production; everywhere the world of mankind is in the throes of evolutionary activity indicating the passing of the old conditions and advent of the new age of reformation. …
This is the cycle of maturity and reformation in religion as well. Dogmatic imitations of ancestral beliefs are passing. They have been the axis around which religion revolved but now are no longer fruitful; on the contrary, in this day they have become the cause of human degradation and hindrance. Bigotry and dogmatic adherence to ancient beliefs have become the central and fundamental source of animosity among men, the obstacle to human progress, the cause of warfare and strife, the destroyer of peace, composure and welfare in the world. … These conditions are the outcome of hostility and hatred between nations and peoples of religion who imitate and adhere to the forms and violate the spirit and reality of the divine teachings.
While this is true and apparent, it is, likewise, evident that the Lord of mankind has bestowed infinite bounties upon the world in this century of maturity and consummation. The ocean of divine mercy is surging, the vernal showers are descending, the Sun of Reality is shining gloriously. Heavenly teachings applicable to the advancement in human conditions have been revealed in this merciful age. This reformation and renewal of the fundamental reality of religion constitute the true and outworking spirit of modernism, the unmistakable light of the world, the manifest effulgence of the Word of God, the divine remedy for all human ailment and the bounty of eternal life to all mankind.
Baha’u’llah, the Sun of Truth, has dawned from the horizon of the Orient, flooding all regions with the light and life which will never pass away. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 439-440.
This is a story of courage, of the weapons of science and faith that are necessary to fight demons within and without, of environmental, social and economic valleys to cross and mountains to scale and of the peace, wisdom, justice and love that are the fruits of a well-lived life.
Arthur Lyon Dahl’s new book In Pursuit of Hope, A Guide for the Seeker, published by George Ronald Books, is available here.