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We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. – Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 17 February 1933, Compilation on Social and Economic Development, p. 4.
Our world, certainly contingent and conditional, continually shows us the will of God through Nature. We know that some day in the distant future, the sun will burn out and the earth will freeze. Presumably we will have figured out how to relocate before that occurs, if meteors, climate change and rampant pollution don’t finish us off first. All these factors create uncertain conditions. So what role do we play in creating these conditions?
The second quote indicates that humans do play a significant role. Our inner lives mold the environment; while the environment deeply affects our inner lives. Savage animals and violent events such as storms and earthquakes create fear. Beauty, sunshine, and the abundance of life’s pleasures all foster confidence, love and attraction. Evidently our environment effects our emotional and spiritual lives, just as it shapes our physical lives.
Fear creates disunity. We fear others will take what is ours, that we won’t have enough, that we will die in our struggle to protect what we do have. We can flee — which exposes us to risks and deficiencies — but instead we often fight. We fight with weapons which destroy on a large scale and for a long time. We pillage the earth to hoard against shortages. We pollute to gain more material goods and comforts. We measure success in Gross Domestic Product, which we somehow expect to grow bigger every year.
Meanwhile many humans fall behind, unable to compete or even to participate. Whole species of animals, birds, insects and others become extinct. The human population continues to grow. Desertification spreads and water and soil quality declines. Food prices rise and human relationships fray and disintegrate. This is the fruit of disunity. We see each other as enemies fighting over scarce resources — and in turn our fighting makes resources even scarcer.
The Baha’i teachings tell us that as humans we make up the component parts of a single entity; the human race. As in the human body, each individual is a cell and groups of cells are organs, all working together to sustain and enhance the existence of the entity. If we look at our physical existence that way, we soon realize that trust, compatibility and personal sacrifice are necessities, and that to survive we must share our scarce resources.
Just as in the human body, an ailing part of the system becomes a liability and a threat to the health of the whole system. When significant numbers of communities suffer, then humanity as a whole gets sick. Our disequilibrium results in disunity, war and environmental damage.
A healthy, harmonious humanity lessens the cost to our Earth. The art of husbanding God’s creation can replace the greed which characterizes our world today. An honest society spends less on security. A peaceful society uses its resources wisely, rather than to kill and dominate others. Education no longer focuses on self-promotion, but on one’s fellow earthly inhabitants. Unity promotes love, which promotes peace, which promotes prosperity.
Baha’is believe that respect for nature increases with education, with the study of the sciences and the arts. As we become conscious of the complexity of God’s will as expressed in the natural world and in our own creative potential we become more respectful and more cultured. We become peaceful and gentle. We nurture life. We replace fear with faith. We accept God’s will and God’s words as humanity’s best teachers. We work together as a unit, advancing our understanding and fulfilling our destiny.
This world is our temporary home. We are spiritual beings living in a material world, which exists to train us for the next existence. For me, understanding my animal nature in this contingent world helps me to see the level beyond it – which we must reach in order to live in the spiritual realm. Animals obey the laws of nature, but humans can alter those laws. That power brings with it huge responsibility. To honor that responsibility we need to know, to explore, to understand and to follow the spiritual laws given to us by God, who sends us guidance from age to age through the Prophets and Founders of the world’s great Faiths.