The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 157.
Our world today needs a vastly-increased level of cooperation and mutual assistance.
But in order to relate with each other in that way, the peoples of the world must share, to some extent, a common vision of what they cooperate for. Developing that mutual understanding precedes every action that intends to construct a more harmonious and prosperous world–and the teachings of the Baha’i Faith provide guidelines for how to get there.
For many, unity of vision comes through religion. I think Baha’is understand relatively well how the Baha’i teachings can contribute to unity of vision between people of differing religious traditions. But not everybody is primarily motivated by religion. Many people are inspired to improve their societies mainly by systems of thought and belief rooted entirely in human reflection and reason, which make no claims to divine revelation. Here things get murkier. In this light, I’d like to give thought to how we can draw on the Baha’i teachings to build unity of vision in that vast domain where theology ends and humanity’s own theorizing about itself begins: the realm of ideology.
So what do I mean by ideology? In one sense, our ideology determines how we imagine the world’s actual reality. A narrative we project onto humanity’s past, present, and future, ideology gives our isolated experiences a broader meaning. Nationalism, Marxism, laissez-faire, feminism, or social conservatism–all could serve as examples of ideology. An ideology often has distinctive codes of right or wrong behavior, bodies of literature, recognized sets of heroes, leaders, and thinkers. Ideologies can inculcate in their adherents shared anxieties, fantasies, and blind spots. When they elicit passionate commitment, they can resemble religion. When they merely provide a shared sense of the world, they resemble culture. At all points of our lives numerous ideological forces have shaped us. And since ideology is imagined, it is constantly being created and re-created, both consciously and unconsciously, by the power of human minds.
When it comes to religion, the Baha’i teachings say that the world’s religions all have a single Divine purpose. When we turn to that common motivation, we can move forward together. But when we consider the multitude of ideological positions, we must look elsewhere for a point of unity, because they are products of human minds, not divine revelation. On this point, Abdu’l-Baha makes a crucial contribution:
Among [Baha’u’llah’s] teachings was the independent investigation of reality so that the world of humanity may be saved from the darkness of imitation and attain to the truth; may tear off and cast away this ragged and outgrown garment of a thousand years ago and may put on the robe woven in the utmost purity and holiness in the loom of reality. As reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity, therefore different opinions must ultimately become fused into one. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 298.
We might all look at the world in very different ways. But we can all accept that we look at the same world—that reality, as Abdu’l-Baha puts it, “is one and cannot admit of multiplicity.”
Perhaps that’s what Baha’u’llah means when he asks us to “discern with the eye of oneness”–that unity of vision is possible if we form our opinions and ideologies on the basis of examination into real conditions. Of course, that remains impossible so long as our opinions circle back upon themselves in endless loops of self-justification.
Abdu’l-Baha’s call to independently investigate reality implies that the circle can be broken, that a unified vision of humanity’s collective life can be woven “in the loom of reality.” The principles enunciated in Baha’u’llah’s Writings have an essential role to play in constructing such a vision. But each one of us is also endowed with a capacity to examine the world as it presents itself to us.
Yes, building unity between distinctive ideological positions is a formidable task, but not an impossible one. It has happened before. When individuals come together lovingly in action and in consultation to read the reality of their shared situation, human beings can gradually overcome the ideological barriers that separate us. None of this happens overnight. But if you look around, you may find that people you know already engage in this process right now.
Great things are possible. Because the world is one, humanity can also be one.