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The Malignant Fruits of Material Civilization

David Langness | Oct 3, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES A New Era of Human Progress

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Oct 3, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES A New Era of Human Progress

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life. – George Monbiot

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. – Albert Einstein

I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction. – John Steinbeck

…among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with divine civilization the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 30.

The technologically-advanced, industrialized civilization we human beings have built during the past couple of centuries has become a ravenous monster that threatens to destroy us.

Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; climate change; the rapid demise of rain forests; the accelerating extinction of species; the acidification of the world’s oceans; the growing threat of global terrorism; the vast extremes of wealth and poverty; deep, violent racial and religious animosities; not to mention the pressures exerted by the world’s population of 11 billion people by the end of this century—all of those human problems, which the Baha’i teachings call “the malignant fruits of material civilization,” have the power to end human society as we now know it.

Those malignant fruits have convinced many a profound thinker that we are not progressing, but instead digressing, moving backwards towards our eventual extinction:

I don’t agree with you in saying that in all human minds there is poetry. Man as he came from the hand of his Maker was poetic in both mind and body, but the gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual. – John Muir

Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wildlife’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day. – Anton Chekhov

Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live. The earth is our home. Unless we preserve the rest of life, as a sacred duty, we will be endangering ourselves by destroying the home in which we evolved, and on which we completely depend. – Edward O. Wilson

From a Baha’i perspective, material progress without a parallel development of spiritual progress can only threaten us further:

Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised from the heights of the happiness of mankind, awakening the slumbering, granting sight to the blind, causing the heedless to become mindful, bestowing hearing upon the deaf, unloosing the tongue of the mute and resuscitating the dead.

The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.

The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.

This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like unto a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its penetrative power is the Word of God.

However, until material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained. For although, on the one hand, material achievements and the development of the physical world produce prosperity, which exquisitely manifests its intended aims, on the other hand dangers, severe calamities and violent afflictions are imminent. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 283-284.

“Dangers, severe calamities and violent afflictions,” Abdu’l-Baha wrote, accompany unrestrained material progress without its spiritual counterpart. Like a small child with a weapon, the world has the capacity to destroy, but lacks the spiritual and moral maturity to understand the consequences.

The question, then, becomes a simple one: how do human beings progress spiritually? What can we do, as a race, to increase our moral capacities? How can we match material progress with spiritual growth?

We can respond, the Baha’i teachings tell us, to the call of the prophet of God for this day and age:

For a single purpose were the Prophets, each and all, sent down to earth; for this was Christ made manifest, for this did Baha’u’llah raise up the call of the Lord: that the world of man should become the world of God, this nether realm the Kingdom, this darkness light, this satanic wickedness all the virtues of heaven — and unity, fellowship and love be won for the whole human race, that the organic unity should reappear and the bases of discord be destroyed and life everlasting and grace everlasting become the harvest of mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 30.

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  • Oct 7, 2015
    We are in bad shape here on Earth, and giants have raised their voice proclaiming doom. Yet too many leaders ignore the cacophony. What will reach them? Not platitudes and good quotes, but personal experience where they realize firsthand change is needed will turn the tide. Our voices add to others and we affect change at the grass roots that reach higher and higher levels until issues like climate change, gun control etc are just too embarrassing to be ignored and must be addressed. Every day helps nail the coffin on dead ideas and attachments.
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