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Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, identified the time we are living in as the long-awaited “Day that shall not be followed by night,” an era that “… is unique, and is to be distinguished from those that have preceded it.”
In the world’s spiritual history, the Baha’i teachings say, humanity is now making a momentous transition, from a 6,000-year history Baha’is call the “Prophetic Era” to an “Era of Fulfillment,” when humankind’s Golden Age will dawn.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, described this new age of our collective spiritual and social maturation in his book God Passes By, marking its beginnings from the time in late 1852 when Baha’u’llah received the first intimations of his new revelation while imprisoned in the Black Pit of Tehran:
A Revelation, hailed as the promise and crowning glory of past ages and centuries, as the consummation of all the Dispensations within the Adamic Cycle, inaugurating an era of at least a thousand years’ duration, and a cycle destined to last no less than five thousand centuries, signalizing the end of the Prophetic Era and the beginning of the Era of Fulfillment, unsurpassed alike in the duration of its Author’s ministry and the fecundity and splendor of His mission – such a Revelation was, as already noted, born amidst the darkness of a subterranean dungeon …
Taking a broad view of human history – ranging some 200,000 years from the earliest appearance of anatomically modern human beings in the fossil record to this present digital age – archaeological data suggests that about 95 percent of that time all human population groups could be classified as hunter-gatherer societies. It was only about 10,000 years ago (plus or minus 2,000 years or so) when a number of human populations across the Earth began to domesticate various types of plants and animals, resulting in the gradual emergence of pastoral, horticultural, and agrarian societies. Anthropologists say this unprecedented transformational process, referred to as the Neolithic Revolution, happened independently in several places around the globe at roughly the same time.
The deliberate and systematic cultivation of plants, giving rise in turn to settled population clusters, established an environment conducive to the invention of written language in Mesopotamia almost 6,000 years ago. For historians, this development of incalculable significance provides the demarcation line between what is called “prehistory” and “recorded history.” For Baha’is, this roughly coincides with the beginning of the Prophetic Era.
All of this led up to the intriguing events of the past few centuries. With the relatively recent appearance of industrial and post-industrial societies, our species is going through a transitional period in human history unparalleled since the Neolithic Revolution. The stage was set with the Scientific Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, leading eventually to the harnessing of electrical power in the late 19th century and nuclear power in the 20th. The mind-boggling, rapid advances in travel and communication, the emergence of information technology, the internet and the world wide web, have transformed this vast planet into a condensed global neighborhood. Shoghi Effendi, writing in his book The World Order of Baha’u’llah, characterized it this way:
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark 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.
The Baha’i teachings on the oneness of religion explain that the intensity of the revelation brought by a new messenger of God for a particular age is in direct proportion to the receptivity and capacity of humanity at that time in history – which explains why it is so important to appreciate the extraordinary time we live in. This age will witness the birth of global civilization, and that revolutionary change requires a measure of divine revelation commensurate with these unprecedented developments. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah has provided that powerful new revelation – that his new Faith will fulfill the promise given in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A mathematical analogy here might help us to appreciate the scope of this new era for human society. If we zoom out to a scale that captures the full 5,000-century duration of the Era of Fulfillment, and compare it to the 6,000-year length of the Prophetic Era, it comprises a 6 to 500 ratio, or rather, a 3 to 250 ratio. Next, divide by 4 to get a ratio of 3/4 to 62.5. Why divide by 4? Because three-fourths of a year is nine months, giving us a ratio of nine months, the typical duration of human prenatal development, to 62.5 years, an adult lifespan.
So for Baha’is the entire Prophetic Era, everything in recorded history so far, represents the gestation period for the birth of a peaceful, unified, and truly global civilization.
Baha’u’llah’s call for the kings and rulers of the world to reconcile their differences and work toward peace and justice is kind of like a physician telling us that it’s time to start pushing, because the baby is on the way. We have only arrived at the process of birth, and still have a very long civilizational lifespan ahead of us. Baha’u’llah wrote:
The whole earth 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.
The vast ocean of Baha’u’llah’s revelation contains within it the kernel of the global ethic we so desperately need in this new age, and brings with it the spiritual forces that will propel humanity through this crucial juncture.